Every morning, an eagle from the Golan Heights is taken to the veterinary hospital at the Ramat Gan Safari zoological center by an employee. Carefully wrapped in a towel to protect him from noise and people, the eagle is going for his daily dose of antibiotics: He was shot by a hunter, and the wound became infected.
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This eagle is one of more than 2,000 wild animals treated every year at the Ramat Gan hospital, which opened about 18 months ago and specializes in wild animals. More than 80 percent of its patients were injured by human activity, from shooting to poisoning; the rest were injured by other animals.
The hospital, a joint venture between the Safari and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, says that almost half its patients recover and are successfully returned to the wild. So far, for instance, seven wounded eagles have been returned to the wild, and two have already produced young.
One of the hospital's cages holds a seagull from Acre that was attacked by a cat. He was found by a local resident, who took him to Ramat Gan. Nearby is a raptor who flew into a transparent acoustic wall. Also present is a turtle whose shell was cracked by a lawn mower.
"So far, five percent of Israel's gazelle population has visited here, more than 150 gazelles," said the hospital's director, Dr. Yigal Horowitz. "They get shot and run over, but in many cases they get tangled in barbed-wire fences, which hurt many animals."
Eagles often arrive after being electrocuted, and "every year, dozens of pelicans arrive because farmers shot them to keep them from eating the fish," Horowitz said.
The hospital will treat any wild animal, even those whose population the INPA is trying to reduce. But in some cases, "like a bird that's lost a wing," the most merciful option is to put it to sleep, he noted.
Aside from its function in treating wild animals and returning them to nature, the hospital also performs an important public service, said Ohad Hatsofeh of the INPA: "People used to be frustrated when they found an injured wild animal and couldn't find a solution when they wanted to help it ... This hospital provides a solution, and you see people who have traveled halfway across the country to bring a box with an injured animal."
One case that particularly touched the hearts of hospital staffers was a female porcupine from the Golan Heights that had been run over. A local resident reported it, and "an INPA inspector found two cubs nestled against its body that were still alive," said Einat Matalon, director of the hospital's clinic. A picture of the cubs enthusiastically sucking from milk bottles attached to the wall still hangs in the clinic. But the cubs themselves have long since been turned loose in a nature reserve in the Galilee.
People bring wounded animals to the hospital almost every day, with the end of the nesting season in late spring being a particularly busy time, due to a plethora of wounded nestlings. The hospital has a network of summertime volunteers whos sole job is to feed the nestlings round the clock.
Indeed, the hospital is so successful that it has gotten overcrowded, and a new wing is now being built. Nevertheless, Horowitz said, he is worried about its future: It is chronically short of funds for day-to-day operations, "and I fear we can't carry on this way."