Middle East

Israel arrests man over Golan Heights mass vulture poisoning

Poisoned vultures on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (10/05/19) Image copyright Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Image caption Israeli officials say the deaths have devastated the vulture population

Police in Israel have arrested a man suspected of poisoning nearly half of the rare vulture population in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The suspect, in his 30s, was detained in the Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangariyye, police said.

Eight out of 20 griffon vultures remaining in the area were found dead on Friday morning.

The incident was a major blow to efforts to save the population, which has sharply declined in recent years.

In a statement shared on social media on Sunday (in Hebrew), police did not give further details about the suspect or his alleged motive but said the investigation into the incident was continuing.

Local media reports stated that the suspect was accused of spreading poison over the carcass of a cow to kill predators.

He was said to be unaware that vultures might consume it.

A fox and two jackals were also found dead, while two sick vultures were taken to a wildlife clinic for treatment, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) said.

Vets treating the sick vultures told Haaretz newspaper that there had been a "substantial improvement" in one of the birds, and that it may soon be released back into the wild.

Officials in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights have been trying to increase the vulture count there amid a dramatic decline in the population over the past 20 years.

Their numbers have reportedly dropped from 130 in 1998 to around 20 prior to the latest deaths.

Many have been poisoned, allegedly by local farmers whose herds are threatened by predators, Israeli news website Walla says.

The killing on Friday of so many birds was a "mortal blow" to the population, INPA Director Shaul Goldstein told AFP news agency.

INPA said it was even worse that the poisoning happened during nesting season, meaning eggs now might not hatch and chicks might not survive.

The authority said it would do everything possible to find out who was responsible and bring them to justice.

Most of the Syrian Golan Heights has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war. In March, the US became the first country to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the area since Israel effectively annexed it in 1981.

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