The bill on wildlife poisoning proposed by Meretz MK Mossy Raz with support from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) passed its first reading the Knesset plenum on Wednesday with a majority vote in favor.
The bill passed 59-50, with support coming from Joint List MK Osama Saadi, despite being in the opposition.
Likud MK Gila Gamliel, who previously served as environmental protection minister, did not show up to vote.
The new bill, if passed into law, would allow the Nature and Parks Authority to have greater power to investigate instances of wildlife poisoning, increase the burden of proof responsibilities on the accused and would see punishments made to be more severe.
The proposed bill comes amid recent incidents that saw wild animals, in particular endangered vultures, killed in acts of wildlife poisoning.
"It is time to give the authorities the tools to convict the criminals and punish them severely," Raz said in a statement.
"I hope we have taken the first step here in protecting biodiversity and wildlife in Israel."
In October, 12 vultures were killed as a result of wildlife poisoning, effectively culling the entire vulture population in Israel by 6% in what was the largest poisoning incident of vultures in Israel in 14 years.
The vultures were found near the dead bodies of dogs and a goat which were poisoned.
In November 2020, a report published by the Environmental Protection Ministry stated that "malicious poisoning incidents are the biggest and most crucial threat to the existence of vultures in our country. Of the 213 vultures injured between 2001 and 2015, about 40% were affected by poisoning incidents. Seventy-four deaths from unknown causes must also be added to this, as it is estimated they were caused by poison."
Vultures maintain steady life-long monogamous relationships and raise their chicks together, making the effect of the poisoning severe.
It is not just vultures that are affected every year by intentional poisoning, however. An estimated 20 wild animals, including an endangered white-tailed eagle, were killed in July through the deliberate use of an illegal pesticide.
A study conducted by the Science Division of the Nature and Parks Authority has shown that on average, there are 120 malicious poisoning attempts each year, causing a death toll in the hundreds. Most of the poisonings are carried out through the use of illegal pesticides, with the perpetrator spreading it on food that the unwary animals ingest.
It is estimated that since the 1950s, the extinction of several species in the region has been directly caused by the use of poisonous pesticides.
But according to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), which had formed the proposed bill with Raz, this bill brings Israel one step closer to dealing with the poisoning.
"We've thought for a long time that current the law doesn't cover everything we need to take care of the poisoners," SPNI Environmental Protection Department director Dan Alon explained.
He discussed some of the big changes he's trying to make with the proposed bill.
"We want to change the law so that when a poisoned animal is found on your land, the burden of proof is on you," he explained. "We want to make the punishment more severe by raising fines and lengthening prison sentences for these crimes. And thirdly, this bill would enable the Nature and Parks Authority to find the poison in the lockers and warehouses of the people who use them."
However, this is only one part of the solution, as it is also essential to combat the source of the problem: Reducing the number of predators.
"Species like jackals, wolves and escaped dogs prey on livestock and cause a lot of damage," Alon explained.
The abundance of predators is linked to the surplus of food they have, something Alon says is tied to how farmers treat their animals."Israel is not the cleanest place on Earth, especially in terms of ecology. Predators simply have too much food. This is why ranchers and farmers use this poison in the first place," he explained.
"So like I said, the deal is just part of the comprehensive solution for the situation."