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Poisoned! Mass mortality event of Griffon Vultures in Israel causes significant blow to vulnerable population

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Poisoned carcasses of Griffon Vultures in Israel _Eyal Ben Gyat, INPA
Mass poisoning incident causes significant Griffon Vulture mortality © Eyal Ben Gyat/ Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Another poisoning incident created a mass mortality event once again, killing numerous Griffon Vultures in Israel this time. The incident is tragic and devastating. Firstly, because it caused a blow to the population of the species in the country, and secondly, it undermines the numerous and long-term conservation actions that managed to reverse the decline of Griffon Vultures in Israel in recent years, achieving a new high in numbers last year.  

Several vulture carcasses discovered upon field visit

This past Sunday on 24 October 2021, worrying GPS data from certain Griffon Vultures alerted the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). Agents swiftly went to the scene in ​​Nahal Kina and Nahal Kamirir to check on the status of the birds. What they came upon was a conservation disaster – a dead goat and nine Griffon Vulture carcasses. The INPA agents were familiar with the vultures, and through their tags, they identified the individuals whose ages ranged from one to 16 years old. The particularities of the case pointed to poisoning.

Investigation launches to determine the cause of death

Following the initial findings, the agents activated the respective procedure and immediately launched an investigation.

INPA inspectors together with the anti-poison detection dog scoured the area to find other potential baits or victims in order to remove poison from the area to deter further casualties and at the same time collect evidence. The inspectors also visited the nearby colonies to check on the birds and scattered food in the feeding stations to prevent more vultures from eating poisoned meat in case it was still present in the affected area. They also sent the carcasses of the vultures and the goat to the Beit Dagan Veterinary Institute for further examination to determine the cause of death.

Confirmed – it was poisoning, and the investigation continues…

Yesterday, on Tuesday 26 October, the Nature and Parks Authority stated that they confirmed the goat and the nine vultures were poisoned.

Unfortunately, today, the agents found one more dead Griffon Vulture whose GPS transmitter did not send data from Saturday due to the lack of signal, but it seems the vulture was dragged by an animal that tried to feed on it and the movement allowed the transmitter to work again. Alongside the new vulture victim, the agents also found two dead dogs. All of the new carcasses retrieved will be analysed by the same institute.

Death toll update

Poisoned Griffon Vulture Israel_Avichai Maslicker

A further search of the poisoning area conducted on the same afternoon on Wednesday, 27 October, led to the discovery of two more Griffon Vultures, bringing the death toll to 12 birds.

The Authority says it is continuing to investigate to find who was responsible, but even if they find the preparator, it is very unlikely that they will be prosecuted.

The illegal use of poison baits to target animals is the most significant threat to vultures worldwide, according to the Vulture Multi-Species Action Plan (Vulture MsAP), co-developed by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and endorsed by the CMS. Not only does poisoning threaten vultures, but it also puts nature, animals and humans in danger. 

In November 2020, a report published by the Israeli Environmental Protection Ministry stated that “malicious poisoning incidents are the biggest and most crucial threat to vultures in the country. Of the 213 vultures injured between 2001-2015, about 40% were affected by poisoning incidents.

Considering that around 200 Griffon Vultures remain in Israel today, this single poisoning incident took the lives of 5% of the entire population!

Source: Israel Nature and Parks Authority Israel Nature and Parks Authority logo

Fighting vultures’ biggest threat and illegal bird killing

We at the VCF are working alongside multiple partners to minimise illegal bird killing along key migratory flyways. One large-scale project funded by the MAVA Foundation is now underway, with actions in many countries, including communications campaigns, increased enforcement on particular black spots, training of enforcement agencies, and lobbying for strengthening environmental protection legislation and regulations. 

Furthermore, we are actively combating illegal wildlife poisoning, vultures’ biggest threat, through raising awareness and building capacities across seven Balkan countries with our newly launched LIFE project, BalkanDetox LIFE. The project aims to transfer Spanish best-practice experience through the Wildlife Crime Academy, which will provide the necessary skills to competent authorities from southeastern Europe, enabling them to investigate wildlife crime like poisoning from the early action and CSI to the final procedure at the Court in their respective countries.

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