With Help From UN, Israeli 'Spy Vulture' Returned From Lebanon

Rare bird of prey returns to Israel after crossing into Lebanon, where its honing device led locals to believe it was a spy.

A warm welcome by UN and Israel Nature and Parks Authority personnel for a 'spy' vulture captured in Lebanon Jan. 28, 2016.
Moti Dolev/Israel Nature and Parks Authority

A vulture previously captured in Lebanon and suspected of spying for Israel received a hero's welcome after it successfully crossed the border into Israel Thursday evening with the help of UN personnel who acted as the middle man in negotiations for the bird's safe return.

Manager of the Gamla Nature Reserve Eldad Eitan launched efforts to recover the vulture several days ago and asked UN employees for help in contacting the Lebanese municipality of Bint Jbail, some 2.5 miles from Israel's northern border, where the bird was found and effectively taken into custody.

The bird of prey was brought to an animal hospital where it was determined that the vulture was lightly wounded, but in good condition, and authorities expressed optimism that the animal would be returned to the wild after receiving care.

The vulture was sighted near Bint Jbail on Tuesday and captured by locals who initially deemed the bird to be an Israeli spy thanks to a homing device on its foot originating from Tel Aviv University.

Israel's alleged spy vulture.
Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Reports received by Israel's Nature and Parks Authority said residents had tied the bird - that has a 6.5 ft. wingspan - to a tree after finding the transmitter.

The authority noted that the bird had been set free approximately one month ago in Gamla Nature Reserve on the Golan Heights in an effort to increase the local vulture population. Currently considered at risk of extinction in the region, Israel brought the bird from Catalonia last year to help spur the Middle East's dwindling vulture population.