Someone is poisoning rare vultures in Israel.
At least ten birds have died and a dozen have been poisoned in three separate incidents over the last months in both the Golan Heights and the Negev.
Now, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is pulling out all the stops to save one of the chicks orphaned by the spate of poisonings.
Rescuers do not believe the vultures are the actual target of the poisoners.
In the Shunra Sands region in the south, two vultures were found clinging to life next to bodies of two other birds of prey and three wild dogs. The source of the poison seemed to be a decaying sheep that was found nearby that the animal fed on.
Likewise, in the other incidents, it appears that the vultures dined on poisoned remains of other animals, ingesting the deadly poison in the process.
Even though the vultures are not the intended targets, however, the deaths are a serious blow to a species currently struggling for survival in Israel, especially since when the parent birds are killed, the baby chicks will often die too.
In fact, according to Yigal Miller, the Nature and Parks Authority, as soon as the game wardens found the dead vultures, the first thing they did was check the nests to find out if any chicks were at risk.
“We went into poisoning mode and checked the nests. An older vulture can go without food for two weeks, but a chick needs to eat every day, so we have to see if the parents are sharing the watch,” he explained. “If one of the birds is injured, the other bird cannot leave the nest. It will stay there until it finally gives up and goes to find food itself. Our observations showed that the birds were not, in fact, taking turns at the nest and that one egg had been abandoned.”
Springing into action, the Nature and Parks Authority hired a rappelling team to rescue the orphaned egg.
Two weeks later, the chick hatched and is now being raised so it can be eventually returned to the wild.
Miller said that the effort to save even one chick is worth it because the species is a valuable and endangered part of the Israeli ecosystem and provide a vital carcass clean-up service.
“The vulture is a very important animal on the food chain,” Miller said. “The fewer vultures there are, the more animal carcasses we have. That is detrimental to agriculture, because the carcasses attract more predators, including wolves, and this increases the risk of rabies.”