Police Nab Suspect in Poisoning of Golan Vultures, Jackals and Fox

Meanwhile, condition of surviving vulture improves; wildlife groups to lobby for law calling for stiffer punishment in cases of poisoning

A vulture that survived a poisoning attempt in the Golan Heights, being treated at the Ramat Gan Safari, May 12, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

Police on Sunday arrested a suspect in the poisoning of eight vultures, two jackals and a fox in the Golan Heights. The suspect, in his 30s, is a resident of the Bedouin village of Tuba Zangaria in the Upper Galilee.

Meanwhile, there has been a substantial improvement in the condition of one of the vultures found poisoned on Friday. It is being treated at the wildlife hospital at the Ramat Gan Safari, after undergoing a series of tests. Veterinarians there say it could be released back into the wild within a few days.

An investigation into the poisoning has been launched by the central unit of the Border Police’s northern district, which specializes in agricultural crime. The working assumption has been that the poisoning was done by cattle farmers who are trying to fight off predators like jackals and wolves, which attack the livestock. The vultures die after eating the poisoned carcasses.

While the Nature and Parks Authority still isn’t certain as to which sort of poison was used, the Safari’s chief veterinarian, Dr. Yigal Horowitz, said that according to the circumstances and the physical symptoms presented by the surviving vulture, it is likely that pesticides were used.

The poisoned vultures in the Golan Heights, May 10, 2019
David Pils/Israel Nature and Parks Authority

For its part, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel announced that when the Knesset resumes activity on Monday, it will ask MKs to sponsor an amendment to the Wildlife Protection Law that would impose stiffer punishment in cases involving poisoning.

The amendment states that anyone owning land on which pesticides have been used (not including local authorities) would be considered to have spread and used them illegally, unless proven otherwise. In addition, the new clause would allow a search of a person, his belongings, or his property without a warrant if there’s a reasonable suspicion that he has violated the law. The Nature and Parks Authority has said it will also promote the bill.

The vulture carcasses were found Friday in a cattle grazing area. According to sources, both legal and illegal pasturing takes place there; the illegal grazing is generally by livestock belonging to Druze residents of the Golan Heights or residents of Tuba Zangaria.

Omri Sharon, chairman of the Israeli Cattle Breeders Association, said that he and his fellow farmers condemn the poisoning, but noted that the authorities also don’t deal effectively with the killing of calves by wolves. He added that cattle owners would object to a law that would make it easier for them to be convicted if poisoned carcasses are found on their property, or that would forbid possession of poison substances of the type that may have led to the vultures’ deaths.

“You can’t check every warehouse of every farmer in the country and arrest those who keep pesticides,” Sharon said.

Shay Zerbib, chairman of the Golan pasture lands association, agreed that wolves are a genuine threat. “Wolves can destroy a herd,” he said, adding, “but everyone in the association knows that you cannot use poison. Most of the people who breed cattle came to this profession because they love animals, not hate them.”