Only a Third of Israeli Camels Have ID Chips – and It Could Be Deadly

The Agriculture Ministry says Bedouin communities in the country's south won't cooperate with it, while stray camels continue to be involved in fatal car accidents

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Camels on the lam, Be'er Sheva, June 2016.
Camels on the run, Be'er Sheva, June 2016.Credit: \ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

On Tuesday evening, Shadi Abu al-Qiyan hit a camel with his car near his hometown Hura, a Bedouin community in the Negev in the south. On Sunday the 29-year-old was declared dead, while a passenger in his car was lightly injured.

The camel’s owner has not yet been located – partly because he has been violating the law: An electronic identification chip had not been implanted in the animal.

Over a year ago, the Agriculture Ministry issued new regulations requiring the implantation of such chips, but Haaretz has obtained figures showing that no more than one-third of camels have received chips. The ministry blames the Bedouin who raise the camels in the Negev, saying they are not cooperating in tagging their animals.

A number of fatal accidents have occurred in recent years in the Negev in which motorists have run into stray camels. In 2014, David Cohen, 35, was killed near Moshav Retamim.

A year later, Yaakov Buzaglo, 40, was killed in an accident near Sderot on the Gaza border. In 2018, Liel Almakais, 14, was killed near Mitzpeh Ramon. The police receive about 1,000 complaints each year about stray camels.

A camel family stops for a snack in Yatir forest on the edge of the Negev desert, July 2017.Credit: \ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Before the law on implanting an ID chip under a camel’s skin, owners were only required to attach a tag to the camel’s ear, but after accidents, the tags were often missing, so it was impossible to locate the owners.

About 500 camels have received the chips over the past year, and another 500 were tagged before that, but it is not clear how many are still alive. The Agriculture Ministry does not have exact figures for the number of camels in Israel, but the figure is estimated at between 3,000 and 4,500. Most of these camels are females.

This means that somewhere between 22 percent and 33 percent of camels have received the chips. The ministry estimates that 200 to 300 camel herds are spread around the country, mostly in the Negev, and about 1,500 are born every year.

One of the groups pushing for the change was the pro-settler nongovernmental organization Regavim, which was headed by now-Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich before he entered the Knesset.

In response to a Freedom of Information request by Regavim, two months ago the Agriculture Ministry said the number of camels implanted with a chip after the change in regulations was 335. But the ministry says dozens more have received the chip since.

“Abu al-Qiyan’s blood cries out against the Veterinary Services, and he has joined a long list of victims who have lost their lives in recent years,” said Amichai Yogev, the southern region coordinator for Regavim.

Yogev says the organization has warned about this herd a number of times. He says that even though ministry inspectors are motivated and ready to act on the matter, enforcement actions will fail without the implanting of chips.

The Agriculture Ministry says it considers the chips very important and will continue to strive to enforce the matter “for the safety of people and animals.”

Over the past five years, the ministry has carried out about 60 enforcement campaigns in the Negev in which hundreds of stray camels were caught and tagged.

But the ministry says that only some of the owners have carried out their legal obligation and tagged their camels, while the cooperation of the Bedouin in the Negev is “very problematic, and as a result the work of implanting chips is progressing accordingly.”