Israel is the single land bridge between Africa and Eurasia, making the land a paradise for bird-watchers, especially in migration season. Fish farmers are somewhat less enthused as flocks of ravenous avians descend on their ponds, eating much of the crop.
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"They may not have eaten in days," points out Safari spokeswoman Sagit Horowitz, and a flock of huge birds with gargantuan appetites can wipe out a fish pool in no time.
Israeli wildlife authorities try to avert conflict between the farmers and the birds. For instance, the Nature and Parks Authority puts out fish in special pools for the migrating birds' delectation, and the farmers have been known to put out food as well.
Yet every year countless birds get shot by farmers protecting their livelihood. Not a few of these wind up at the Wildlife Hospital, run by the Ramat Gan Safari Park and the Natuyre and Parks Authority – but the badly bleeding pelican brought in yesterday by animal ambulance broke local records.
To the doctors' shock, x-rays revealed the pelican had no less than 110 shotgun pellets in its body.
"The enormous quantity of lead had caused severe lead poisoning," says Horowitz.
Aside from that and bleeding, one wing bone was cracked and the bird lost an eye, she says.
The pelican is being treated, including with anti-lead medication and an operation to heal its cracked wing. The hospital says it should recover, though it may well remain lame. But that doesn't condemn it to a life of misery. The hospital places disabled pelicans in specially designated fish pools, which serves two purposes. Not only do they live off the fat fish of the land for life: their presence is noticed by migrating pelican flocks, which will then be likely to land at the designated pool rather than at a fish-farm, the hospital explains.
The Safari zoo's hospital treats more than 2,200 wild animals a year, almost all of which are injured by the hand of man. More than 60% are returned to nature, says Horowitz; and in the case they can't be, arrangements are made for them to live out a comfortable life.
Another patient in December was a tortoise with a broken carapace. It was treated using a device invented for Israeli terrorism victims with skin loss. Earlier this year, a tiger made headlines for receiving acupuncture to treat chronic ear infection.