Zoology. Tel Aviv University. Conservation of falcons in Israel. – Israel Valley
A team from Dr. Orr Spiegel’s lab at Tel Aviv University’s School of Zoology is collaborating with the National Nature and Parks Authority to protect Israel’s endangered peregrine falcon population.
In addition to being majestic animals, falcons are considered “cleaners of nature” that clean the carcasses of large animals from open spaces. In their absence, the ecological balance is disrupted, which can be harmful to other animal species and even humans. This year alone, more than a dozen specimens have died of various causes in Israel, and the curve is only increasing.
In cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Department, Prof. members. Orr Spiegel (Dr. Nili Anglister, Dr. Marta Acacio, and PhD student Gideon Vaadia) fights for each hawk. Recently, they released 64 of them into the wild as part of the National “Hawks” project.
Researching the relationship between sociality and movements in wild animals, the laboratory provides real-time information about the birds’ every movement thanks to about 130 transmitters connected to them. “Thanks to these transmitters, we can learn the location of the animals and use artificial intelligence to analyze other information such as their activity, where they land to sleep or eat and for how long. Time, measurement of acceleration, their flight and the route they take in a given time,” Dr. Spiegel explains.
Thanks to the transmitters, we already know that falcon attacks on Jordan are common. Some of them even make regular trips to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, or across the Red Sea to Sudan and Chad. The problem of species extinction is actually regional. Thanks to machine learning techniques applied in cooperation with the university’s DATA SCIENCE center, it is possible to process data from transmitters and, among other things, identify areas with a high risk of poisoned corpses. .
As soon as Dr. Spiegel’s transmitters receive a signal that a falcon is flying, a message is sent to a Telegram group of project members, and a Nature and Parks Department inspector immediately visits the site to inspect the carcass next to the bird. came down It seems like a Sisyphean task, but it seems to work.
Unless dropped or damaged, the transmitter can last up to three years (“sometimes longer than the hawk it’s attached to,” Dr. Spiegel bitterly comments). Every few months, “special operations” are held to capture animals, place transmitters, and release them into the wild.
“We’ve changed nature, so we don’t have the privilege of ignoring the problem”
To protect Israel’s falcons, feeding stations managed and managed by the Department of Nature and Parks have been established in the areas where they live in the north and south of the country. These are huge cages where the carcasses of large animals are brought, which are carefully inspected to ensure that they are not poisoned or contain any drugs that could harm the birds. “Eagles feed on large carcasses. They are mainly looking for grazing areas where poisoned animals are often found. This can be intentional poisoning, when farmers use poison to protect their herds from stray dogs or wolves, or even intentional poisoning, for example, when a sick animal receives drug treatment and dies. , when his body was exposed. The hawk finds it, but its stomach cannot break down and digest the medicine in the cow’s body, which poisons it,” says Dr. Spiegel.
“We have changed nature; therefore, we do not have the privilege to ignore the problem. In the past, these fields were grazed by herbivorous wild animals and formed an important part of the diet of birds of prey. Today the fields are cultivated, most of which provide food for farm animals and are now believed to be home to falcons. And these feeding cages are our opportunity to give them something better.”
Higher death rate than reproduction rate
Falcons know the location of the stations, set up there, and “pass the information” to other birds as part of their social communication. Catches and placement of transmitters for monitoring purposes are carried out at these feeding stations. Dozens of falcons arrive at the scene within days, then begin a process that takes hours: Teams of inspectors and researchers quickly swap wing tags that make it easier to identify patterns and transmitters that allow tracking. On this occasion, blood samples are also taken to get an idea of the health status of the birds, all released on the same day; and tracking starts again.
According to Dr. Spiegel, about every month or two, one or two eagles die of poisoning in Israel. In addition to the Nature Authority’s Falcons project, in which the laboratory participates, other efforts are being made to protect endangered species locally in Israel, including the importation of falcons from Europe and their controlled release into the wild, as well as development. Breeding cores in the Judean Desert, Gamla Reserve and Mount Carmel. But the death rate is always higher than the reproduction rate. It is necessary to understand that in nature, a pair of eagles will raise one chick per year. If it survives, the chick will reach sexual maturity at 5 years of age and then begin breeding and, if all goes well, will live to be 20-25 years old.
The Nature and Parks Department’s Falcon Project, which includes Dr. Spiegel’s lab and other organizations, is a great example of how science, data collection and analysis, and conservation agencies interact; but ultimately, Dr. Spiegel is not optimistic about the future of these large predators in Israel: “We are fighting for honor. The number of hawks is declining and we are trying to slow it down enough to solve all the other problems before it is too late. “Without serious changes in law enforcement and penalties in terms of awareness of the harm caused by poisoning, I’m afraid we won’t succeed,” he concludes.
- Dr. Orr Spiegel and Dr. Nili Anglister during the release of the eagles (Credit: Tovale Solomon)
- Eagle release in the Negev Mountains region. (Credit: Tovale Solomon)
- Dead eagles after being poisoned in the Golan Heights by Nature and Parks Department inspectors. (Photo: Nature and Parks Department)