Wildlife in Israel have always been under threat from economic over-development and hunting, including poaching by migrant farm workers. Illegal poaching in the country has now reached levels that could soon result in some animal species becoming extinct or unable to naturally sustain themselves in the wild. This revelation was reported in a recent weekend magazine article in Haaretz. Local Druze for instance are hunting porcupine to extinction.
A variety of wild mammals and birds are at risk, ranging from hoofed mammals such as gazelles and wild boar to smaller creatures such as hares (once plentiful but now scarce), partridges, and at least two species of porcupines.
In addition to the habitats of these animals being diminished by agriculture and housing construction, illegal poaching by hunters (many of them licensed) is becoming a problem that Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority are struggling to cope with.
The Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) is the body that sends out game rangers to patrol open areas where wildlife live. As reported in Haaretz, Dr. Yariv Malihi, wildlife ecologist for the NPA’s central district, made the following foreboding statement regarding the future for many kinds of wildlife – as well as for natural habitats themselves:
“Nature in Israel is fragile and hanging by a thread. It is under assault from every direction: infrastructure, development, activities in the field (including illegal hunting), and the desire of people to live. In recent years, this has been compounded by criminal hunting, which involves night pursuits with the use of projectors, indiscriminate shooting, and intimidation of the wild populations. The animals are in constant stress, and this has a critical influence on their ability to reproduce. This element of stress that hunters inject into their world can bring about the collapse of whole populations that are already at risk.”
The larger hoofed mammals which need more habitat and food supplies to survive are also being threatened by what is now their no. 1 predator : man. Gazelles are hunted illegally for their meat that is sold on the black market for high prices.
Porcupines, a large nocturnal member of the rodent family, are especially prized for their meat by Druze hunters.
Porcupines are often caught in traps baited with vegetables at the entrance to its burrow. If it can’t free itself, the animal is clubbed to death by the hunter, as shooting it damages the meat. Wilds birds, including doves and pigeons, are also hunted as their meat, along with ducks and partridges.
Of the 2,160 hunting licenses still issued each year, the NPA estimates that fewer than 500 people actually hunt for sport. Although many of these try to obey the laws and do not hunt illegally (I used to be one of them until I gave it up more than 12 years ago), many others may be poaching as selling wild game can be quite profitable. Although the law calls for heavy fines, few fines for poaching have ever been issued.
A new law is being considered in which hunting will be discontinued as a sport; only hunters who win permits by lottery will be permitted to hunt wild animals that are considered to be causing damage to crops and private gardens. The animal that falls mostly into this category is the wild boar, which has managed to coexist with humans although it doesn’t go near them, except to raid gardens and crops.
Changing the hunting laws may help protect endangered and stressed wild animal species, but NPA officials are worried that this could put further strain on the fragile “cultural ecology” that exists between Israeli Arabs, Druze and Jewish populations that live within close proximity to each other in the areas where game is hunted, as well as the country as a whole.
Read more on illegal animal hunting and poaching:
Maltese Hunters Legally Massacre Egypt’s Protected Birds
Thai Migrant Workers Poach Wildlife for Food in Israel
Israel Animals Killed by Economic Development
Sheikh Abdul Aziz: A Green Sheikh Who Cares About Our Planet