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An attempted poisoning of a 900-cattle herd in the upper Galilee was averted yesterday thanks to the vigilance of a rancher, the Cattle Breeders Association said.

The worker found a large number of apples scattered around a nearby water trough. He suspected the apples had been covered in Temik, a powerful pesticide containing sodium fluoroacetate, and so gathered all the fruit into a sack and called the local police.

Police sealed off the area, while a Nature and Parks Authority toxicologist summoned to the scene took the apples and two foxes found dead nearby for laboratory tests.

Haim Dayan, director-general of the Cattle Breeders Association, told Haaretz that the phenomenon of cattle poisoning was "grave," and that he hoped police would be able to find those responsible. He noted that Temik was a lethal poison, causing a slow and extremely painful death.

Cattle poisoning has become rampant in the Galilee recently, mostly in the context of disputes over grazing grounds or misguided attempts at pest control.

These poisonings cause widespread damage, as they kill not only cattle but wild animals such as boars, and predators, such as eagles. Cattle poisoning is considered one of the prime reasons for the extinction of the eagle population in the eastern Galilee.