The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has taken on an unpleasant but necessary task over the past few months: looking for animal carcasses in garbage dumps in the hills around the Negev city of Rahat and the nearby unrecognized Bedouin villages.
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The populations of wolves, foxes, wild boars, jackals and feral dogs that feed on the dead animals have skyrocketed and are changing the ecology of the region.
The wild animals are attacking sheep and goats with increasing frequency, which leads shepherds to use poison against the predators. The nature authorities have received special funding from the Environmental Protection Ministry to enforce laws against illegal use of poisons and to stop the improper disposal of animal carcasses.
The Bedouin in the Negev have 250,000 head of sheep and goats and it is estimated that they discard six tons of carcasses (about 100 sheep or more) every day. The shepherds are being asked to report carcasses to the parks authority, whose personnel come with a crane to collect them and bring them to a cooling facility at the Dudaim landfill. From there they are taken to a special disposal furnace in western Galilee.
“There are a few dozen wolves around Rahat now, where once there were only a few and they didn’t attack sheep,” says the parks authority's southern district chief, Ezra Sasson. “Over the past three years there have been 50 cases of sheep attacked by wolves. We even see wolves in the daylight hours now, something I didn’t see in the past,” he added.
The problem is clearly evident along a winding unpaved road leading to Rahat, lined for kilometers with piles of garbage. Next to nearly every heap of trash are dead animals or sacks full of body parts of sheep and chickens. “In the morning you can see packs of dogs roaming around looking for food,” Sasson says.
The stink is so insufferable that the Bedouin have no choice but to burn the garbage. The Rahat municipality clears out the trash from time to time but it quickly fills up again — even though the area is turning residential.
The relationship between the parks authority and the Bedouin is fraught. For the Bedouin, the agency's jeeps represent the government, and they suspect their workers of conducting surveillance of illegal construction in the unrecognized villages. Hence, education is of the essence, and Sasson says Bedouin teachers are helping convey the importance of proper garbage disposal to schoolchildren.
Sleiman Afinash, who raises 400 head of sheep, agrees that the problem is acute. “The dogs endanger people out walking for sport in the morning," he says. The Rahat municipal veterinarian, Dr. Mazen Abu Siam, adds that the dogs bring rabies, among other diseases. “We tour the area and talk to people, persuading them to cooperate. They are suspicious at first about the intent of the project,” he says.
The parks authority has so far collected about 40 tons of carcasses and Sasson says cooperation from the locals is increasing.
One suggested solution is for the Rahat municipality to install special bins for the carcasses, which would be emptied frequently. Another is to dig special pits. The parks authority would like to expand the project to other parts of the Negev and has sought funding from the Agriculture Ministry, which said it will support the efforts.
The Environmental Protection Ministry is also working to reduce other types of garbage in the region through enforcement and the establishment of a municipal association for sanitation, something that doesn't exists anywhere else in the country.