Huge flocks of rose-ringed parakeets that gobble up almonds, wild pigs that dig up vegetable fields and crows that gouge out the eyes of lambs and calves - these are just a few of the pests that damage crops and harm livestock. Farmers often respond by spreading poison that also kills rare wildlife.
Now the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is trying to keep both nature conservationists and the farmers happy, via a new joint initiative with farmers throughout Israel. The authority will dispatch inspectors whose sole job is to prevent damage to agriculture, including the elimination of certain animals, such as wild pigs and crows, when necessary. In exchange for the authority's assistance in protecting crops and livestock, the authority is hoping for cooperation from the farmers, including a moratorium on the use of poison.
One example of such cooperation was seen at Kibbutz Magal's almond orchards in the Sharon region.
"This year thousands of parakeets came to the orchards, and we realized the crop was in serious danger," says kibbutz member Oren Heckster. "We spoke to the authority and began implementing a plan to prevent the damage. We knew of farmers who had lost all of their crops to these birds, but we did not want to use illegal measures or do anything without first coordinating with the authority."
The kibbutz members were advised to wander among the trees beating drums and firing gas guns, to scare off the birds. A few of the birds were also shot down by a professional pest controller.
"In the meantime, the almond orchard is safe, so we have had positive results," says Heckster. The farmers' fields and orchards and the dozens of garbage dump sites throughout Israel have created an abundance of food sources for wild animals, which have begun to multiply rapidly. A recent survey ordered by the authority found that five times as many foxes live inside agricultural communities with poultry coops than in the open areas nearby.
Some farmers use poisons to kill the harmful animals, but have also killed in the process such rare species as eagles and frogs. Israel Nature and Parks Authority ecologist Dr. Noam Leader says there are an average of 120 cases of animal poisoning annually, and about two thirds of these instances are the result of attempts to protect crops from wild animals.
Netting has been spread over the fish ponds at Kibbutz Hamaapil, for example, to stop pelicans and cormorants from eating the fish. The nets are specially designed to prevent the birds from being trapped. Crows are kept away from field crops by the sight and smell of a dead crow, hung by the authority beside the field.
Sometimes the effects of the environmentally friendly measures are only temporary.
"We obviously cannot use some of these measures continuously, because they are too costly to implement," says Heckster. "We are working with the authority to find a way to deal with the parakeet reproduction and nesting sites."
If the parakeets can be scared away from these sites, explains Kaiser, they will not multiply and will not come back to damage the almond trees at Magal.
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