Nature Authority Offers 'Conflict Mediation Service' for Farmers, Pests

For eight straight days, a shepherd from Western Galilee found the shed where he keeps food for his sheep broken into, causing thousands of shekels in damage. The vandal seemed undeterred by the shepherd's attempts to protect his property with seed sacks and large wooden planks. The planks were broken and the seed bags torn apart.

It took a few more days before the exasperated shepherd, with the assistance of Ofer Yaakov of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, realized the intruder was none other than an Indian crested porcupine. The trespasser's real identity, Yaakov said, was revealed by the animal's bite marks on the wood and its droppings.

Yaakov's job of "mediating" between animals and farmers is a relatively new one. "Coming to me is not necessarily obvious. Some farmers solve the problem illegally by shooting [the animal] or [using] poison," he said. "My job is to meet the farmer halfway, so he won't feel like the whole world is against him. I need to give him a solution, one that is not illegal and doesn't harm nature."

In the case of the porcupine, Yaakov set a trap and waited a few days. After the porcupine was captured, it turned out to be larger than usual - weighing about 15 kilograms; the average weight is seven or eight. "Food in the orchards runs out at this time of year, so the shepherd's food shed was a real find for him," Yaakov explained. The porcupine was eventually released into the wild, far from the shed where he'd so happily dined for a week.

If the shepherd had taken matters into his own hands, another member of a species already in trouble thanks to hunting could have been killed. "That is our great concern, and that's the reason I'm trying to create a dialogue with the farmers," Yaakov said.

Desperate measures

In recent years, wild animals and birds of prey in the north have been seriously affected by violent last-resort actions of farmers. For example, farmers who set out poison against voles that damaged their orchards, or predators who have attacked their cows, caused secondary and tertiary poisoning that killed dozens of vultures and other animals.

To prevent such desperate acts, Yaakov will spend the coming nights helping a cattle man from Moshav Dishon, whose herds have been repeatedly attacked by wolves. Yaakov says not all farmers expect help from "the establishment," but until we solve the problem, he will become our ambassador.