New campaign seeks to ban wildlife hunting in Israel

Poachers often hunt endangered and protected animals like gazelles and porcupines, where their meat is sold illegally for high prices.

A hunter surveys the landscape (photo credit: EYAL BARTOV)
A hunter surveys the landscape
(photo credit: EYAL BARTOV)
A new campaign started by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and two NGOs aims to end the practice of hunting wild animals in Israel.
While not known by many, September 4 of every year kicks off the legal hunting season in Israel. This allows hunters to illegally kill 350,000 ducks, 100,000 doves and 60,000 quail for a four-month period.
At first glance, the situation in Israel seems manageable, especially when compared to some of the other countries in the region, Yehonotan Merav, who is leading SPNI's campaign, told The Jerusalem Post.
However, while hunting endangered animals such as Israeli gazelles and porcupines is illegal, hundreds are still killed by hunters every year, and the poachers don't face any consequences that are severe enough to act as a deterrent.
These animals have been in Israel for thousands of years, and many of them are mentioned in the Torah. Some, like the Israel Gazelle, have a deep connection to the Land of Israel. However, SPNI fears that soon, the gazelle along with other species won't be around for much longer.
This new campaign, which can be found here, was started by SPNI along with the NGOs Animels and Let the Animals Live, and seeks to raise NIS 317,000 by the end of July through donations online. At the time of writing, they have nearly reached the halfway mark. The campaign, Merav explained, has two goals: stop recreational hunting, and make punishments for poaching more severe.
There are around 2,000 licensed hunters in Israel, all of whom get their licenses from the Nature and Parks Authority, Merav said, and the danger hunting poses to many animals is especially severe.
"SPNI has been trying to work to change hunting laws to stop recreational hunting and to remove various species from the list of legal game for hunters. We have been trying to do this for many years," he told the Post. "In order to make this sort of change, we need to go through Knesset. But the hunters have a powerful lobby, and almost all previous attempts were unsuccessful.
"We had one success, when we removed the Chucker, which is a type of partridge that was nearly on the brink of extinction, from the list, but that was because of the help we had from Omri Sharon, the son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who as a former hunter and a noted outdoorsman. This is the only time we were successful."
Among the animals SPNI seeks to remove from the list of legal game are the common quail and the turtledove. "Both of these birds declining worldwide, and it's crazy that they're still fair game for recreational hunters."
The issue of gazelles is extremely severe, too, as while they are off the list, they are still poached.
"We're very lucky to have gazelles in Israel, and we hold 75% of the global population," Merav explained. "We take them for granted because we see them as common, but this is the last stronghold for them. And in some years, hundreds of them could be poached."
Cracking down on poaching is next to impossible, as well. Though hunting laws have been on the books for decades, the first arrest made regarding poaching was in 2009, when a man was convicted for illegally hunting porcupines. He was sentenced to just five months in jail.
"Catching poachers is very difficult. These people are outdoorsmen who know what they're doing. The data we have comes from remains, signs of poaching. Catching them red-handed is very hard," Merav told the Post.
While hunting is always a concern due to the damage it can have on endangered species, the importance of this campaign has been highlighted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. After being hunted, exotic animals are often sold at exotic food wet markets – open-air marketplaces selling perishable exotic foods. These markets have a serious risk of being the source of zoonotic disease outbreaks, with the wet market in Wuhan, China, being highlighted as a likely origin of the ongoing pandemic.
However, these wet markets exist in Israel, too, SPNI stated on their campaign page. There, meat from an Israel gazelle can be bought for around NIS 1,500. According to Liad Ling, North District head of investigations in the Nature and Parks Authority. "The price for a poached porcupine can reach up to NIS 450 ($129)."
This, SPNI explained, has only added to the importance of ending legalized wildlife hunting in Israel. It is for this reason that they are raising the money, to create a large public campaign to lobby for a change to the 1955 law regarding hunting.
"Standing in our way is Israel’s tiny group of hunters with a large political influence," SPNI CEO Iris Hann wrote on the campaign page. "The only way to defeat them is by building a large, noisy public campaign and amplify our voices to show that the public wants hunting banned."
However, Merav feels that this time, there is a greater chance than before. This is due to two things: Awareness of the health risks from eating wild animals due to the coronavirus outbreak, and due to support from some influential MKs and ministers.
"Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich is head of the committee in charge of these laws," he told the Post. "She's very outspoken about animal rights and environmental issues, and we're very happy that she's there. Together with Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, we're very confident about our success. We already have a lobbyist running around the corridors of the Knesset, and we want to sign on as many MKs and minister as possible. Haimovich was the first to sign on."