Israeli Minister Permits Culling Rock Hyraxes to Prevent Leishmania Spreading

Israel's environmental protection minister Zeev Elkin has issued a permit that allows shooting and trapping the animals up to 500 meters from homes

Rock hyraxes in the Kinneret, 2016.
Gil Eliyahu

Environmental Protection Minister and Jerusalem mayoral candidate Zeev Elkin on Wednesday moved to allow selected killing of rock hyraxes to curb the spread of leishmaniasis, a parasitic infection the animals host that causes skin ulcers.

Elkin at first considered revoking the hyraxes’ protected status, but after consulting with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, he issued a three-year culling permit to reduce the species’ population.

The Nature and Parks Authority and Environmental Protection Ministry said the permit to cull hyraxes will enable to monitor and supervise the animals’ shooting and trapping up to 500 meters from homes. It will also allow licensed hunters to shoot the hyraxes.

The permit allows hunting hyraxes in the West Bank as well, by means of a nature protection order to be issued by the OC Central Command.

Rock hyraxes in Jerusalem, 2015.
Emil Salman

Rock hyraxes are the reservoir hosts of sandflies, which carry the parasite that spreads leishmania, a disease that causes shallow to deep skin ulcers that are hard to treat but are seldom dangerous. The lesions may also appear in the mouth and nose.

In recent years the hyrax population has settled in many places near communities, where rock areas have been set up to mark the communities’ borders or as gardens. As a result the disease has become widespread.

Nature protection officials blasted Elkin in August, after he announced his plan to revoke the hyraxes’ protected status. The officials warned that uncontrolled killing would render the hyraxes extinct, and the Nature and Parks Authority suggested culling them as an alternative.

The Environmental Protection Ministry plans to continue to reduce the hyrax population by limiting their habitat and preventing them from coming to communities and their vicinities. The ministry put this plan into action two years ago and allocated 40 million shekels for it.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel commended Elkin’s decision to preserve the rock hyrax’s status as a protected species. “Maintaining the species’ protection will prevent hunting it down in a wild, uncontrolled manner and illegal poisoning, which endangers all wildlife,” the society said in a statement.