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Egyptian vultures return to Carmel mountains after 60-year absence

A rare Egyptian vulture nest was discovered in the Carmel region in northern Israel, almost six decades after the species was thought to have vanished from the area.

The nest was discovered perched on a cliff face at the Hai Bar Nature Reserve on the mountains overlooking Haifa Bay.

The Nature and Parks Authority’s chief bird ecologist, Ohad Hatzofe, called the find “a huge achievement. The Egyptian vulture went extinct in the Carmel [region] in the early 1960s, and disappeared from [the rest of] the Galilee in the late ’80s,” he told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday.

“The only exception was a single pair at Nahal Amud,” a streambed near the Sea of Galilee. One of the pair “was poisoned last year, was rehabilitated in the [Ramat Gan] Safari’s hospital for wild animals, and was returned to nature. He migrated to Sudan, where he now nests.”

The Egyptian vulture is distributed from southwestern Europe, across North Africa and as far east as India. But its numbers have dwindled in recent years due to hunting, accidental poisoning and other dangers.

The new find comes less than two weeks after eight griffon vultures were found poisoned on the Golan Heights, claiming nearly half the area’s total population, which had already dwindled from some 130 birds in 2006 to just 20 in a count earlier this year.

A rancher from the northern Israeli Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangariyye was arrested on suspicion of poisoning a cow carcass in order to cause the deaths of wolves and other carrion-eating predators that plagued his herds.

Ghassan Manduri, 36, from the Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangariyye in the Galilee, in court on suspicion of poisoning eight rare griffon vultures, May 13, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Authorities said the death of the birds during the nesting period was particularly devastating, and could lead to the loss of eggs and hatchlings left without parents.

President Reuven Rivlin joined the chorus of condemnation of the poisoning earlier this month, saying in a Facebook post that the decimation of the vulture population “ultimately threatens the existence of many other species in the food chain of which we are also a part.”

A vulture that fell ill after being poisoned is returned to the wild in Gamla, on the Golan Heights, May 16, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

After two more vultures were found poisoned but were successfully nursed back to health by veterinarians and released to the wild late last week, Rivlin praised the effort as “a moment of hope, when the vulture spread its wings and took flight to explore the skies.”

The president, a sworn vegetarian since 1979, went on: “We must protect our wildlife. With responsibility, open eyes, national [conservation] plans, and an open heart.”