Israeli Parks Authority Lacks Funding to Curb Leptospirosis

The authority is seeking to install water troughs to keep cattle away from Golan Heights streams that could be contaminated by cattle feces that spread the disease, which can kill humans

Illustration: Stream in the Golan Heights.
Yaron Kaminski

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has developed a plan to install water troughs in the Golan Heights so that cattle don’t approach streams and springs in the area. Animal feces containing bacteria that cause the disease leptospirosis have apparently contaminated springs and streams in the Golan, but the 15 million shekels ($4.1 million) necessary to install the troughs has not yet been approved. A number of people who have swum in the Golan Heights have recently been hospitalized with suspected leptospirosis.

The disease, which frequently causes flu-like symptoms and if left untreated can cause death, can be spread to humans after animal feces contaminate the water and people then come into contact with it by drinking it or swimming in it. Following the discovery of leptospirosis in the Golan Heights, swimming has been prohibited in six streams in the region. Last week the parks authority, in cooperation with water agencies, began to pump clean water into the streams to reduce the level of bacteria.

According to Nissim Keshet of the parks authority, the agency has already began building the troughs to keep cattle away from water sources elsewhere in the north — in the Galilee, near Mount Tabor and the Menashe plateau. The water sources near the two sites also attract cattle, but unlike the Golan Heights, there are fewer sources of water in that part of the Galilee, so fewer visitors come to swim there.

The parks authority originally designed the troughs for cattle herds in the Golan Heights six years ago and put together a list of suitable sites for them. But due to a lack of funding, only one trough was installed in the Golan. “We started to implement the program in stages, but now we intend to push ahead to get the funding. We need cooperation from various agencies, among them the drainage authorities in the region and the Agriculture Ministry,” Keshet said.

The overall impact of cattle on water sources in general has become clear through research carried out as far back as 10 years ago. The nature protection authorities were particularly concerned that cattle near water sources were endangering flora and fauna that were dependent on the water. Cattle dung contains large quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus, which severely compromised water quality.

Two studies in the Golan Heights examined the impact of water troughs at sites at least half a kilometer from the nearest spring or stream. The studies showed that the presence of cattle at a stream or spring was reduced by 61 percent to 100 percent when a watering trough, a feeding trough and a sun shade were installed. The plan to install troughs at many sites in the Golan was based on these findings.

The parks authority recently issued an extensive survey of springs in the eastern Lower Galilee that revealed the extensive presence of cattle as the main threat to these water sources. The authority plans to build watering troughs in these areas as well.