Israel's Nature Authority Calls for Harsher Penalties for Gazelle Hunters

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What's in a name? Gazelles in Jerusalem's Gazelle Valley Nature Park, March 2015.Credit: Nadav Canaan

The Nature and Parks Authority on Thursday called for harsher penalties for illegal gazelle hunting, due to the threat of extinction hanging over the species.

The authority hopes that this week’s decision of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify the Israeli gazelle as an endangered species will lead to stricter enforcement of the hunting ban.

Illegal hunting is one of the main threats to the large gazelle populations in the Galilee, Carmel and southern coastal plain. As reported by Haaretz on Thursday, the IUCN has called for a change in the status of the Israeli gazelle from that of a vulnerable species to an endangered species, following the release of figures showing the gazelle population has dwindled by 70 percent in the past 15 years.

“We hope the decision will help us to persuade the courts to recognize the serious damage that hunting has caused the gazelles and to hand down harsh penalties to people convicted of illegal hunting,” the authority’s chief scientist Dr. Yehoshua Shkedi said on Thursday.

“Today illegal hunters who are convicted in court mostly get a fine of less than 10,000 shekels, but no prison sentence,” he said.

The wildlife protection law allows for a prison sentence of two years or a fine of up to 150,000 shekels for people convicted of illegal hunting.

Shkedi said it was necessary to preserve the contiguous open areas where the large gazelle populations live, to enable the animals’ reproduction and movement.

The number of gazelles in Israel dropped from around 10,000 at the beginning of the last decade to 3,000 in 2008, according to the Nature and Parks Authority’s figures.

The authority says that the number this year is closer to 2,000, though up to 1,000 additional gazelles may be living in areas where they are not counted.

The largest gazelle population, numbering some 900 animals, is currently in the Ramot Issachar region. Some 250 gazelles live in the southern Golan Heights and some 300 in the eastern Galilee. The gazelles’ numbers are decreasing in all these regions because of illegal hunting and unsupervised reproduction of predators, such as jackals. Smaller gazelle communities live in other large open areas, like the Carmel, Lachish hills and the Judean Mountains.

“All it takes is one organized group of hunters that operates over a length of time on the Carmel to cause serious damage to the gazelle population,” Shkedi said.

The 120 gazelles in the Nitzanim Nature Reserve in the southern coastal plain are also endangered by hunters and feral dog packs, while the population in the Eastern Galilee has been seriously reduced by hunters.

The authority has been engaged in an ongoing battle to stop the hunters, many of whom use night vision equipment.

In contrast, the number of gazelles in the Gilboa has risen to about 400 in recent years. The separation barrier has apparently prevented hunters from the Palestinian Authority from entering the habitat.

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