Capture of Israeli ‘spy’ birds harming wildlife preservation

A rare Bonelli’s Eagle, an alleged spy for Israel, was shot down, wounded by a Lebanese hunter, a cause of concern for Israel's wildlife preservation.

Eagle 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Eagle 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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.
The 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 Beirut.
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 body.
“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 equipment.
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 governor.
Also recently found was a European Bee-eater in Turkey, which, like the kestrel, was not killed but simply caught and examined, Leshem said.
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 killed.
Looking beyond the ornithological community, Jordan is still holding the Israeli transmitter of a wolf capture and killed there.
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 lamented.
Reuters contributed to this report.