Top Israeli Scientist Calls to Stop Feeding Cranes at Nature Reserve After Major Bird Flu Outbreak

Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy says that feeding cranes may further fuel the spread of the avian flu whose outbreak has caused the deaths of some 8,000 birds

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Cranes at Hula Lake.
Cranes at Hula Lake.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The feeding of cranes at Hula Lake ahead of spring migration should be halted, according to the chief scientist of the Nature and Parks Authority. This must be done in order  o reduce the risk of the location continuing to be a locus of spreading avian flu, thus jeopardizing all migrating birds, said Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy, who addressed the matter during a meeting with experts from Europe and the United States.

Some 8,000 cranes have died in Hula Lake in recent weeks, following exposure to avian flu brought in by migrating birds. On Monday, the Agriculture Ministry announced it was returning the purview over the area to the Jewish National Fund, after the vast majority of bird carcasses were cleared from the preserve. A smaller number of wild fowl of other species that were exposed to the disease have been found at additional sites.

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Also, approximately 1 million head of poultry at several coops were infected and were put down under supervision of the Agriculture Ministry’s veterinary services. One of the issues that troubled the experts in the wake of the disease’s spread was whether to halt the feeding of the cranes remaining at the lake. The idea is to reduce the concentration of birds that may be infected through the spring, when millions of migrating birds pass through Israel en route to nesting sites in Europe.

The feeding issue was discussed at an experts’ meeting on how to deal with the situation following the avian flu outbreak, organized on Tuesday by the chief scientist at the Environmental Protection Ministry, Prof. Noga Kornfeld-Shor. One of the experts attending, Prof. Ran Nathan of Hebrew University, noted that several lakes in Africa currently contain some 70,000 cranes, which will be passing through Israel along with birds of other species. “It’s concerning, and we only have about a month to prepare for it,” Nathan pointed out.

Shkedy, who also attended the meeting, noted that it had been correct to continue feeding before to prevent the dispersal of infected cranes to other feeding sites, but that ahead of the spring the feeding should be stopped to reduce the risk to migrating birds posed by a large concentration of infected cranes around the lake. The forum of organizations in charge of the crane feeding, including members of the JNF and the NPA, among others, has yet to decide on the issue.

The director of the JNFs northern district, Dr. Omro Boneh, admitted at the experts’ meeting that the avian flu outbreak has undermined all basic assumptions on the feeding activity. He said this will require a reexamination not only of the feeding during the coming spring, but also the possibility of curtailing it in the future.

One of the experts attending the meeting, Prof. Thijs Cuicken of the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, noted that if there is dry land near the lake, feeding can be carried out there, as in such conditions the virus’ survivability is reduced, as opposed to soil exposed to water. Boneh noted that due to winter rainfall, it is difficult to locate suitable feeding grounds with such conditions.

The impact of outbreaks such as avian flu also trouble conservation authorities in the feeding of pelicans, which is done at several reservoirs to prevent their feeding on commercial fishponds. The NPA and Society for Protection of Nature believe that to prevent the danger of rapid contagion in large flocks, additional water reservoirs must be located where pelicans can be fed.

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