A day after Hezbollah reported the arrival of an alleged avian Israeli agent to
Lebanon, veteran ornithologist Prof. Yossi Leshem said he fears that the
increasing phenomenon of capturing Israeli “spy” animals is harming the
country’s wildlife preservation.
“We are trying so hard to keep our
wildlife and putting so much money [into it] and we are losing the battle,”
Leshem told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, stressing the strides Israel has
taken to reduce bird electrocution and poisoning, as well as habitat
destruction. “Now we have a new issue which is causing so much problems, so it’s
very frustrating for a nature lover.”
A rare Bonelli’s Eagle was shot
down and wounded by a Lebanese hunter on Wednesday, who handed over the Israeli
transmitter he found to Hezbollah, explained Leshem, a professor in Tel Aviv
University’s zoology department and the founder of the Society for the
Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI)’s Israel Ornithology Center.
capture was first reported by Al-Manar, Hezbollah’s official television station,
on Wednesday.The eagle, the station said, was captured by amateur hunters in the
town of Ashqout in the Keserwan district of the country, which is northeast of
Carrying an implanted receiver, the eagle wore a brass ring
around its foot with markings in English that connected the suspect to Tel Aviv
University, according to the Al-Manar report.
Hezbollah TV broadcast an
image of the “alleged spy,” saying that a receiver had been located on its
“Israel has used spy birds in the past: in Saudi Arabia in 2010, in
Turkey in 2012 and in Egypt in 2013, and all were found to be used as listening
devices” Al-Manar reported.
The Bonelli’s Eagle caught in Lebanon is an
extremely rare eagle in Israel, which has dwindled down from 65 nesting pairs
prior to the establishment of the state to nine pairs today, Leshem told the
Post. SPNI has been running breeding centers to raise more of these eagles and
bring them back into the wild, and the sole purpose of the radios is to study
their behaviors, Leshem explained.
“Unfortunately, in Lebanon everything
that moves they shoot,” he said.
This is the seventh bird in the past few
years – although the first eagle – that Israel has lost to its neighboring
Middle Eastern countries, according to Leshem.
Most recently, Turkish
authorities detained a bird this past summer on suspicion it was spying for
Israel, but freed it after X-rays showed it was not embedded with surveillance
The kestrel aroused suspicion because of a metal ring on its
foot carrying the ring number E-24311 from Kibbutz Nir David, prompting
residents in the village of Altinayva to hand it over to the local
Also recently found was a European Bee-eater in Turkey, which,
like the kestrel, was not killed but simply caught and examined, Leshem
In the past, two Egyptian vultures and a pelican tagged in Israel
were captured in Sudan and suspected of spying, while last year an Israeli-tagged
griffon vulture suspected of spying was caught and killed in Saudi Arabia,
Leshem explained. In Egypt, a stork with an Israeli transmitter was also
Looking beyond the ornithological community, Jordan is still
holding the Israeli transmitter of a wolf capture and killed
Meanwhile, in 2011, the capture of a suspected spy Israeli shark
in Egypt’s Sharm e-Sheikh was featured in international media and satirical
programs as prominent as the Colbert Report, Leshem added.
“Every time a
migrating bird from Israel, carrying a satellite transmitter or a ring, is
captured by one of the neighboring countries, it is immediately thought to be
the instrument of a sophisticated spy work by the Israeli Mossad,” he wrote in a
response paper on the subject this summer.
As far as the Bonelli’s Eagle
wounded in Lebanon goes, Leshem said that through some of his Palestinian
colleagues, he has asked a local organization affiliated with Hezbollah to find
treatment for the bird.
“But of course the chances are low,” he
Reuters contributed to this report.