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A rare case of cooperation in the Middle-East: Griffon vulture returned from Lebanon to Israel

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They say that pigeons are the harbingers of peace – well, this week looks like a griffon vulture was just that –a symbol of peace and cooperation in the complex Middle-East.

The story is similar to many others that happened in the past – a griffon vulture tagged in Israel was caught in Lebanon, and then accused of spying. Nothing new – we have heard of injured white storks being “detained” in Egypt because of carrying tags and of other vultures being accused of spying in Saudi Arabia.

The truth is, in the embattled Middle East, any tag, mark or ring from a foreign country found in a dead or injured bird is viewed with suspicion. These tags and rings are only devices put by benign researchers to study the movements and survival of birds – we use them all the time in Europe.

This time however, the story finished well – after being caught in a village in southern Lebanon (Bint Jbeil) on the 25th January, probably weakened, the bird was yesterday returned to Israel to be treated – a rare case of cooperation in this most complex of border areas.

In a discreet operation led by the Gamla Nature Reserve (Israel) and the UNIFIL – the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, the bird could be brought back from Lebanon to Israel. Fortunately the people who found the griffon in Lebanon treated it well, and everybody collaborated.

The interesting thing is that this vulture is actually of Spanish origin. It is part of a group of 16 griffons (12 juveniles and 4 adults) from Spain that were transported to Israel last July – in December another load of 21 arrived in Israel. All these birds had entered the Vallcalent wildlife rehabilitation center (managed by the Generalitat, the Catalonian regional government) after being picked up injured or weak in Spain, and then sent to Israel to restock the population there as part of a bilateral collaboration for the griffon vulture conservation project, in a process facilitated by the VCF.

Eight of the birds from the first load were then released either in Gamla Reserve in the Golan Heights in northern Israel, or in the Negev desert – the rest being used for captive-breeding. This particular individual was released on December 22nd in Gamla, wing tagged (code P98) and with a GPS device. On the 18th January it moved to southern Lebanon, and was found weak near Bint Jbeil on the 25th. Fortunately this time there was a happy ending

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