Analysis

To Prevent More Vulture Deaths, We Need Harsher Penalties

The Nature and Parks Authority has taken steps to save the vulture population - but they won't help if farmers poison the birds

The poisoned hawks in the Golan Heights, May 10, 2019.
David Pils, Nature and Parks Authority

The particularly worrisome aspect of the aggravated poisoning of several vultures over the weekend is that it was only a question of time before something like this happened. The professionals who work with wildlife knew this could happen in a reality in which the use of pesticides by farmers is almost totally unsupervised, with transgressors receiving slaps on the wrist.

The chances of poisoning are increased with the sloppy removal of agricultural waste, which leads to higher levels of carnivores such as wolves and coyotes. These animals start preying on calves and sheep, and ranchers respond by using poison.

>> Eight vultures, two jackals and a fox die of poisoning in Golan Heights

Poisoning is the chief cause for the disappearance of vultures in the Golan Heights. The vulture population is still having a hard time recovering from the largest incident, which occurred in 1998. But this is not the only danger they face. Vultures and other birds of prey often get electrocuted on high-voltage lines or are hunted in neighboring countries.

Another threat that is worrying the Nature and Parks Authority these days is the construction of electricity-generating wind turbines. There are concerns that vultures and other large birds will be killed by the turbine blades.

For this reason it was recently decided that a large wind farm that will be built in the Golan will also employ an observation system (using either birdwatchers or radar) to identify when large birds approach, in which case the turbines will be shut down in order to prevent any accidents. The nonprofit Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel claims that this will not be sufficient; the organization is calling for the plan to be rejected.

The Nature and Parks Authority has taken many measures in recent years in an attempt to save the vultures. It has established feeding stations supplied with carcasses, and has used observers to locate and remove dead animals from the area in order to prevent poisoning of large birds. The authority has expanded its operations and is now receiving assistance from Spain. But everyone involved in this line of work knows that these steps will not help if the poisoning continues.

The authority believes the solution lies in an amendment to the law protecting wildlife which would call for stiffer penalties for harming of protected wildlife species. In addition, it would ensure that the people responsible for the territory on which an incident occurs will have to prove that they were not involved in the violation (currently the burden of proof lies with the state). The amendment would also call for expanding the jurisdiction of Parks and Nature Authority rangers so that when there is a suspected poisoning, they can enter private land without a court order.

The authority will attempt to promote the new amendment when the new Knesset convenes.

Another vital aspect that requires amended legislation or better regulation is the regulation of pesticide sales. There is no justification for these materials to be in the hands of cattle-growers, but as one professional involved in the protection of nature noted, it’s harder to buy a gun in Israel than it is to buy these toxic substances.