Every year there are hundreds of poisoning attempts, some harming many forms of wildlife including large mammals such as jackals, foxes, and deer

Zafrir Rinat Dec. 12, 2021

Birds poisoned in the Negev, in October.
Birds poisoned in the Negev, in October.

An amendment to a law that would help combat wildlife poisoning will be discussed Sunday by the ministerial legislative committee in the wake of severe attacks on vultures and other wildlife. The amendment to the Wildlife Protection Law would expand the enforcement powers of the Nature and Parks Authority, which in recent years has failed to indict any perpetrators of wildlife poisoning.

The amendment was initiated by a group of MKs headed by Mossi Raz (Meretz). Government support would greatly enhance its chances of being passed in the Knesset as well. In addition to an explicit ban on use of toxins to harm wildlife, property owners will have to prove that they were not responsible for any poison found in use on land they own or control. Today the onus of proof is on enforcement agencies. The amendment raises the punishment for use of banned poisons from one to three years and allows Nature and Parks inspectors to conduct warrantless searches upon reasonable suspicion of a crime.

Poisoning by pesticides is usually connected to attempts by farmers to harm wild animals that damage their crops or prey on their livestock. In many cases this action causes a chain of wildlife poisoning unrelated to these damages. The poisoned carcasses are eaten, among others, by vultures,

Two months ago, 13 vultures were found dead in the Negev after eating the carcass of a goat poisoned with pesticides. Every year there are hundreds of poisoning attempts, some harming many forms of wildlife including large mammals such as jackals, foxes, and deer. NPA field personnel carry atropine to counter the nerve toxins used, but often find only dead animals.

Nor are wild animals the only victims. Efrat Rohrman of Tzur Hadassah was walking with her dogs through vineyards near her home. Suddenly the dogs began to shake, vomit, and bleed. They were dead within hours.

Upon testing at the Beit Dagan Veterinary Institute’s toxicology lab, they were found to have been poisoned by a pesticide named aldicarb, banned in Israel. NPA inspectors searched the area and found the bait – a chicken’s head. This was the third dog poisoning in the area in recent years. No suspects have been found.

Most pesticides used in poisoning are bought freely at farming equipment stores. The purchasers are supposed to use these materials according to label instructions, pursuant to a relevant law known in briefs as the Label Law. The Agriculture Ministry claims that this is strictly monitored and severely enforced “through fines, investigations and indictments.”

Professional sources at the Nature and Parks Authority beg to differ, claiming no enforcement takes place. “Anyone in Israel wanting to take a farming poison and use it, can do so,” says Yatir Shamir, head of the enforcement division at the authority. “There is no documentation and nobody checks. You just go to the store and buy. There’s no real enforcement on use per label. We think the stores should be required to keep precise records of buyers and what they purchased in what quantity.”

As things currently stand, it is hard to find evidence tying a poison to a person who used it. Hence the failure to file any indictments. “We cooperate with the Border Police, who have intel capabilities we don’t, and still can’t score a real success,” said Shamir.

Greatly aggravating the poisoning problem is the lack of a solution for the severe waste blights which create food depots attracting wildlife. These proliferate due to the food abundance, luring animals to farming areas, which prompts the farmers to retaliate with poison. In addition to wild animals, there is also a proliferation of stray dogs preying on herds, and the poisonings target them as well. A meeting of senior NPA and Environmental Protection Ministry personnel, to consolidate a national plan to deal with the waste scattered in open areas, is scheduled for this week.

Deficiencies in enforcement of pesticide trafficking and difficulties in locating offenders have forced the Nature and Parks Authority to seek other deterrence methods. In the past year the authority has begun to employ two Belgian Shepherd dogs specifically trained to search for traces of pesticide. This year the authority located 186 poisoned baits throughout the country, compared to 33 last year, without the dogs.

A few weeks before the big poisoning in the Negev, the dogs found baits in the Carmel area and prevented mass harm to wildlife and the vulture population, which has grown significantly in recent years. The authority plans to deploy teams with trained dogs in each district, but these can only reduce the problem. Bitter experience shows a handful of poisonings can bring the vulture population in Israel to the brink of extinction.