Rare Vultures Nesting in Israel Poisoned by Farmers Aiming to Kill Wolves

The poison in the bodies of dead livestock is racking an Israeli vulture population that has already shrunk in recent years.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
One of two poisoned vultures being treated at the Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan, April 2015.
One of two poisoned vultures being treated at the Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan, April 2015.Credit: Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Two vultures are in critical condition Sunday, suspected of being sickened by farmers who spread illegal poison in the carcasses of cows and sheep as a way to kill wild dogs, wolves and jackals.

The number of vultures and eagles nesting in Israel has fallen sharply in recent years, so these and other recent poisonings represent a serious blow to the country’s wildlife.

The two vultures were found in the Shunra Sands region in the south, which is used by farmers and also by the army for training. The birds were found over the weekend and sent to the animal hospital at the Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan, commonly known as Safari Park.

Alongside the vultures lay the bodies of two other birds of prey — one kite and one Egyptian vulture — and three wild dogs. All the animals had died from the poison, whose source was probably the decaying body of a dead sheep, which was found nearby.

This was the third incident in six weeks in which wild animals have been poisoned in either the Negev in the south or the Golan Heights in the north.

This weekend’s poisonings were discovered after an exhausted vulture was spotted at the Shunra Sands. It was suffering heart problems and was treated with atrophine, which can neutralize harm to the nervous system. Its condition improved.

The poison is thought to contain organic phosphorous, which attacks the nervous system.

Following the birds’ transfer to Ramat Gan, parks authority officials traced all the birds of prey in the area and attached transmitters to them so they could be tracked.

One vulture at Safari Park is a mother of a chick that has nested at the Akev Stream in the Negev. If she does not return to help her partner, the chick is expected to die.

About five vultures died in another case of poisoning three weeks ago in the Ein Avdat region, also in the Negev. Before that, five vultures and two black vultures died of poisoning in the Golan Heights.

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