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Senior ecologists and zoologists warned this week of rabies spreading in Israel following refusal of the environmental protection minister to authorize a culling of stray dogs, which spread the disease.

The scientists urged Minister Gilad Erdan to revoke the decision he made at the beginning of the year and allow Israel Nature and Parks Authority inspectors to cull stray dogs.

The Agriculture Ministry said the rabies eruption in the past year was marked by a considerable increase in rabid dogs, both stray and pets.

Failure to cull stray dogs increases their numbers, which in turn raises the risk of spreading the disease, the scientists say. In addition, stray dogs mean increased attacks on wild animals and threatens the extinction of certain species, they said.

Until recently the Veterinary Services in the agriculture and environment ministries used to authorize INPA inspectors to cull stray dogs to prevent rabies from spreading. Erdan demanded the Agriculture Ministry issue regulations determining what circumstances justify shooting dogs before approving the culling.

"Stray dogs wandering in packs have significantly reduced gazelles' ability to reproduce," the scientists wrote to Erdan. "Packs of dogs have devoured rare roe deer in Ramat Hanadiv and four female Persian fallow deer, one of the rarest species in the world, which Israel is saving from extinction and returning to the wild," they wrote.

"I've received complaints from several regions about shooting dogs and of dogs left dying in the field," Erdan said, confirming that he has not authorized culling stray dogs. "It confuses many people who think INPA's job is to protect animals and don't understand why they're shooting dogs. I found there are no clear regulations saying where and in what circumstances shooting stray dogs is permitted," he said.