Forensic System Could Track Down People Who Poison Animals

Park preservation officials are working to develop a forensic system to track down people who deliberately poison wildlife such as vultures and hyenas.

The system, which is being developed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Tel Aviv University, is intended to trace the pesticides used to poison wildlife to the person who handled the bags that contain it. It will be similar to forensics laboratories used by the police.

If nothing is done, vultures could become extinct on the Golan Heights, said Noam Lidar, the parks authority's chief ecologist.

"We believe that in 25 years the population of vultures in the Golan Heights will become extinct if we don't take care of the problem," Lidar said, adding that hyenas, badgers, greater spotted eagles and imperial eagles have also been poisoned.

"In one case we found 101 jackals poisoned in one location," he said. "At Gamla we saw a poisoned vulture return to the nest and fall dead from the cliff. The chicks in the nest died from secondary poisoning."

In almost all cases of wildlife poisoning in Israel, farmers intentionally try to kill animals such as vultures and hyenas, usually because they view them as endangering their crops, the parks authority said yesterday.

The preservation group said 60 percent of the incidents were due to concern over crops and 95 percent were deliberate. The second leading reason for wildlife poisoning, at 35 percent, is feuds between neighbors.

There are about 120 documented cases of poisoning every year, but the actual number is believed to be four times as high.

It is difficult to prove who is responsible for spreading poison, since it is left in open areas. Between 2004 and 2007, only 20 people have been charged with attempting to poison wildllife, and only four suspects have been convicted.

The farmers start the cycle of poisoning when they leave out garbage that attracts wildlife that preys on their farm animals, nature authority officials said. The farmers then try to poison the intruders with pesticides that damage the central nervous system, killing other animals in the process - and potentially harming people too.

"I don't what to think about what might happen to a hiker who touches a poisoned animal," Lidar said. "If these poisons even touch the skin, they can be fatal."

As part of the nature authority's efforts to combat the poisoning, it has recently begun collecting animal carcasses from Bedouin areas in the Negev. It is also seeking stricter laws to punish poisoners and increase monitoring of pesticide use.