Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 May 2019

Rare vultures in occupied Golan Heights 'wiped out by mysterious poisonings'

Eight griffons were found dead on Friday by local authorities

A United Nations peacekeepers vehicle drives near the Quneitra border crossing with Syria in the Israeli annexed-Golan Heights on April 28, 2018. AFP
A United Nations peacekeepers vehicle drives near the Quneitra border crossing with Syria in the Israeli annexed-Golan Heights on April 28, 2018. AFP

A population of rare vultures is being abruptly killed off in the occupied Golan Heights by a spate of mysterious poisonings.

Only 20 griffon vultures remained in the territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War when they captured it from Syria. But eight of them were found dead on Friday by authorities, a new blow to an already decimated breed.

The Israel's Nature and Parks Authority's director Shaul Goldstein described it as "a mortal blow to the birds of prey population".

The Israeli parks authority said the deaths constituted "a serious matter", and vowed to find "those responsible for this poisoning and bring them to justice".

A fox and two jackals were also found dead and two other vultures sick were taken to a wildlife clinic for treatment.

Mr Goldstein declined to say if the poisoning was deliberate, but Israeli media reports speculated that local cattle farmers were killing the birds because they have the potential to harm their livestock.

The vulture population on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights has declined significantly over the past two decades, with their number dropping from 130 in 1998 to around 20 before the latest deaths.

In 2016, UN peacekeepers helped return a vulture which had been captured across the border in Lebanon on suspicion of spying for Israel.

Israel seized around 1,200 square kilometres of the Golan from Syria in a 1967 and later annexed it, in moves never recognised by the international community.

About 18,000 Syrians belonging to the Druze community – most of whom refuse Israeli citizenship – remain in the occupied Golan, alongside some 20,000 Israeli settlers in 33 communities.

Updated: May 11, 2019 04:46 PM

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