Thousands of Cranes Die of Bird Flu in Israel's 'Worst Blow to Wildlife' in History

Over 5,000 migratory cranes die of virus, authorities warn of egg shortage as hundreds of thousands of infected hens are killed

Adi Hashmonai
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Water fowl in the Hula Nature Reserve area.
Water fowl in the Hula Nature Reserve area.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Adi Hashmonai

Over 5,000 wild cranes have died of bird flu in northern Israel in what Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg called “the worst blow to wildlife in the country's history” on Sunday.

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Authorities declared the Hula Nature Reserve off-limits to the public a week ago over the outbreak. Some 25,000 cranes migrated to Hula Lake, along one of the world's major bird migration routes, this year.

Rangers in hazmat suits have collected thousands of crane carcasses. Dozens of cranes were found to be sick around 10 days ago, and Israeli media outlets reported that children who visited the nature reserve may have touched an infected crane and thus contributed to the spread.

In the nearby moshav of Margaliot, around 560,000 of its 570,000 egg-hatching hens have been infected and were slated to be culled by drowning or decapitation. Margaliot's chicken coops provide 7 percent of all eggs consumed in Israel, and they are the main income source for most residents. Authorities were looking to import eggs from abroad and head off an egg shortage due to the cull.

Workers in protective suits taking part in the culling of hens in Margaliot, Sunday.Credit: Rami Shllush

Agriculture Ministry officials have already pledged to compensate residents for every destroyed chicken, but they say this only makes up part of the economic damage. Moshav residents say the process of sanitizing the coops takes about three to four months, only after which they’ll be able to restock them. 

Israel Nature and Parks Authority officials believe there are dozens, if not hundreds, of cranes who have died across the Hula Valley, in addition to the thousands found so far.

A worker disinfects a car exiting the moshav of Margaliot, Sunday.Credit: Rami Shllush

Fearing further spread of the virus, authorities are set to close Route 886, a regional highway in the north, on Tuesday for ten days. Officials from the Upper Galilee Regional Council explained that the decision had been made at the request of the Agriculture Ministry, because the disease is so contagious. Just a few droppings from an infected bird that get picked up by a car can spread the deadly virus.

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