Protecting Israels endangered scavenger birds, especially the majestic Griffon vulture, will be the main agenda item at an international conference in Tel Aviv next week being organized by The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The Israel Electric Corporation is also providing assistance.
"Every bird has something special, and with vultures, it is the noble way they soar," said Dan Alon, of the SPNI's Israel Ornithology Center.
Alon has been working for more than a decade to assist various bodies in saving Israel's vultures. But recently he and his colleagues have become concerned that the decline in the vulture population will soon become irreversible, and so they have organized the conference, to take place at Tel Aviv University.
"I remember the days we would see dozens of vultures soaring right at eye level at the cliffs of the Gamla reserve. Today you hardly see any," Alon said.
According to figures of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, less than 40 nesting pairs of Griffon vultures are left in Israel, as opposed to nearly 1,000 before the establishment of the state. This year, the vultures raised less than 10 chicks. The population of Egyptian vultures has also dwindled by nearly 70 percent, and two other impressive species, the bearded vulture and the cinereous vulture, disappeared more than two decades ago.
As eaters of carrion, vultures often fall victim by eating wildlife that has been poisoned to protect cattle. They are also under threat from hunting, disturbances to their nests by hikers and aircraft and electrocution - which the Electric Corporation has managed to reduce by insulating high-tension wires.
In the past decade alone, three large-scale poisonings killed more than 50 Griffon vultures.
A new threat are wind turbines slated for construction, Alon says. According to research from Spain, numerous vultures are killed by the blades when their flight path crosses the wind farms, he says.
"This will be the final blow, and therefore great consideration must be given to how many turbines should be built and where they should be placed," Alon said.
Until a few years ago, huge efforts by the INPA had led to the establishment of a feeding station for vultures, the high-tension wires were insulated, breeding nuclei were established," and experts believed they were on the right track, Alon said.
But the poisonings brought down the numbers again. "I don't know what else can be done, and so we thought experts from abroad can help us."
Alon says poisonings have to be reduced, but adds that threats beyond the experts' control occur in the neighboring countries to which the vultures fly.
Tel Aviv University ornithologist Yossi Leshem has called for improved cooperation among all government bodies and ministries. "It's clearly hard to get cooperation from countries in the region, but we have to urge the Americans and the Europeans to lead the way and help us," he said.
"I am a religious person, but for me, conservation of vultures, which are mentioned 28 times in the Bible, is no less important than conservation of the Western Wall," Leshem said. "My grandson will not see a bearded vulture in the sky as I did. But I want to make sure he'll see Griffon vultures."