The Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry is offering a reward for every wolf that cattle and sheep farmers kill in an effort to stop wolves from preying on farmers’ calves and sheep.
The program, which provides 2,000 shekels ($580) for hunting down a mature wolf and 500 shekels per cub, is being carried out in coordination with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and with the authority’s consent.
However, one zoology expert suggested that the program could endanger Israel’s wolf population.
The details regarding the new program were included in a program providing support for sheep herding in open spaces that was released by the ministry two weeks ago. The ministry said sheep and cattle grazing is a means of protecting open spaces and therefore justifies the grant for wolf hunting. Support is also being provided for the facilities necessary to raise cows and sheep.
The parks authority said the policy of permitting wolves to be shot to protect agriculture is not new, explaining that it was instituted in 1998 after a large number of wild animals were killed by poison laid by farmers who were trying to put a halt to wolves that were killing their livestock. The poisoning dealt a blow to vultures in the Golan Heights that had eaten poisoned carcasses. In response, the shooting of wolves along with other measures such as better fencing, was instituted.
“These grants are a way of enabling farmers to pay for professional hunting,” said Dr. Amit Dolev, the northern district ecologist for the parks authority. “We are giving them individual permits for every wolf shooting and everything is being done with close coordination and oversight on our part, and it’s important to note that no farmer is doing this to make money. We have divided the Golan Heights into several regions including those where shooting is permitted and a large area near nature reserves where it is totally banned.”
However, Prof. Eli Gefen, a Tel Aviv University ecologist who over the years has studied wolves and other animal of the same family, called the program dangerous. “It can also lead to unnecessary shootings to prevent preying [by wolves]. Everything done in this context requires an orderly policy on the part of the Nature and Parks Authority and not by the Agriculture Ministry.”
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But Dolev, the parks authority ecologist, said in recent years there has actually been a decline in the number of wolves that have had to be shot while wolf population numbers have remained stable. The decline in the killing of the wolves is the result of stepped up efforts to collect the carcasses of cattle and sheep that have died of disease and which in the past were simply left in the open.
They are an important source of food for wolves in addition to live animals that wolves prey upon. Without this food source, the overall number of wolves has dropped, as has the threat to livestock. That in turn has reduced the justification for the killing of the wolves. Fewer wolves are being shot because there is less food for them to eat, but overall, the wolf population has remained stable.
In a statement, the Agriculture Ministry said: “This is a practice that has been carried out for many years designed to protect grazing livestock from wolf predators. Because in practice the [scope of] the shooting [of wolves] is minimal, carried out only with a permit from the Nature and Parks Authority, it doesn’t pose a danger to the wolf population.”
The Golan Heights is the primary habitat of the country’s wolves and the region is among the most densely populated with wolves in the world. Between 2008 and 2012, on average 48 wolves a year were shot in the Golan Heights, according to the parks authority. By contrast, between 2013 and 2017, the annual rate dropped to around 30.