Israel's Nature Authority Duels Animal Rights Group Over Culling Policy

Let the Animals Live calls it immoral, inefficient; authority says it protects ecosystem.

Rock hyraxes at the Neveh Yaakov neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

The sight of hyraxes scurrying around nature reserves in the Galilee makes visitors happy, but if you ask the locals, they might say that the animals, which are coming very close to their homes, are a health hazard. That is because of the fear that they can spread a parasite that causes the skin disease known as leishmaniasis (“rose of Jericho”). So the local authorities have asked the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to allow the animals to be shot.

The nature and parks authority refused, and said local government must first remove the places were the animals live, such as artificial rock terraces.

The Nature and Parks Authority does allow other species of animals to be shot, and in other areas, hyraxes too. While the animal rights group Let the Animals Live regards such culling as immoral, and inefficient as well, the authority considers it necessary.

According to the authority’s figures, last year, 2,307 jackals and 1,599 wild boars – both protected species – were legally shot, as were 2,202 hooded crows and more than 300 stray dogs. In addition, 6,822 rose-ringed parakeets were put down between 2013 and 2015, along with almost 19,000 other birds. These figures are partial, because they are based only on reports of animals put down by legal permit.

The main reason for granting permits to shoot wild animals is the Nature and Parks Authority’s obligation by law to prevent the damage these animals cause agriculture. For example, rose-necked parakeets and hooded crows damage watermelon and sunflower fields and the jackals eat through irrigation pipes and prey on calves. The populations of most of the species in question are growing due to the availability of food from human sources.

“We receive information about damage to agriculture from our rangers or through complaints by the farmers themselves,” Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy, the authority’s chief scientist, says. “Our directives to rangers are first to suggest solutions, first of all – sanitation – to get rid of garbage, as well as to install fencing and protective elements.” Shooting the offending animals in another possibility, but Shkedy said “we will not allow this in every place and in every instance.”

Thus, according to Shkedy, the Nature and Parks Authority prohibits the shooting of pelicans that cause damage to fishponds, because pelicans are a globally endangered species. The more extensive the sanitation, the more effective the results of shooting will be in preventing other animals from returning, Shkedy says.

The authority is afraid that if it doesn’t take action, others will, and illegally, causing serious ecological damage. One example of this is the use by farmers of poisons against wild animals, which has led to the near-extinction of griffon vultures after they ingested the carrion of animals that had been poisoned.

In fact, one reason permits were issued to shoot wolves in the Golan Heights in cases where they were suspected of preying on calves was to prevent poisoning. Another reason is to help ensure that cattle are able to continue grazing freely, which keeps vegetation low and prevents wildfires. Shkedy says the authority continually monitors the situation to make sure the shooting does not put the wolves at risk of extinction. Indeed, Shkedy says the proof that the population is not at risk is that wolves are spreading to other areas.

As for jackals, the numbers are so large that such monitoring is not necessary, Shkedy says. “In one case of poisoned wild animals we found 70 dead jackals and the farmers still complained of the damage the animals were causing, so we realized how big the population is,” he said. And with regard to wild boars, he said, “We noticed that fewer were seen in the Golan Heights and so we stopped issuing shooting permits, and the population bounced back quickly.”

Throughout the country, Nature and Parks Authority rangers shoot stray dogs in accordance with the law to prevent rabies and in coordination with the veterinary service. Shooting certain animals has ecological benefits – for example, it protects gazelles, which are endangered, from predation by jackals and stray dogs.

Some of the shooting permits are given to licensed hunters, and others to groups of farmers, who are given access to weapons. There are currently 15 such groups, operating under close supervision, says Roni Malka, head of enforcement at the Nature and Parks Authority. “Some of these groups were shut down because they did not meet the conditions. The shooting permits are limited in time and the weapons are returned so there is better monitoring of their use,” he added.

Let the Animals Live has consistently opposed to the Nature and Parks Authority’s culling policies. The group’s attorney, Yonatan Spiegel, says that instead of harming the animals, the focus should be on preventing the problems caused by humans, first and foremost garbage that contains food. “To deal with the problem of invasive species, the obvious thing to do is to prevent any import of wild animals to Israel (like various bird species) and trafficking them. If there is a problem of reproduction of jackals and wild boars, the factors causing it should be dealt with, like pirate agricultural refuse dumps.”

Spiegel says that culling is not only cruel but fails to solve the problem. “Even in cases of stray dogs, this policy only seems to create a solution and in fact perpetuates the problem because anywhere they shoot packs of strays, other dogs take their place.”

According to Spiegel, stray dogs should be picked up, neutered and returned to the places they were taken from, a solution he says “leads quickly to a reduction in the number of dogs and as a result limits harm to other wild animals.” Spiegel says dog owners should also be educated to keep their dogs responsibly.

“Unfortunately the authority does not promote real and long-term solutions,” he says.

Enforcement chief Malka also believes in harsher penalties for people who abandon their dogs. However both Malka and Shkedy regard culling as a necessary policy, and so they are concerned over an amendment to the Rabies Law, proposed by the Agriculture Ministry, that would restrict the veterinary service’s ability to deal with stray dogs.

“The animal rights organizations look out for cats and dogs but why don’t they enlist in protection of wild animals?” Malka says.

Spiegel counters that wild animals like gazelles should be protected but not at the expense of other animals.