Israeli wildlife authorities struggle to contain an outbreak of an avian flu that has killed an estimated 5,000 cranes and led to the death of perhaps 500,000 chickens, according to news reports. Meanwhile, legislators are considering a law to punish people poisoning birds and other wildlife.
An estimated half million gray cranes pass through Israel each winter on their way to Africa, but some 30,000 or so remain in the country. These birds have been hard hit by the virus, but there are signs the viral attack is weakening. Israelis feed migratory birds to discourage them from eating crops and a number of birds remain.
The outbreak occurred in the Hula Valley Nature reserve in northern Israel and is attributed to the H5n 1 virus. The H5n1 virus is commonly called bird flu and it causes severe respiratory disease in many varieties of birds. It can infect humans, almost always from handling dead or diseased birds, but is otherwise rarely transmitted to people. If transmitted to humans it is serious, however, as mortality can reach 60 percent.
Sadly, because the cranes probably got the virus from domestic fowl, about 500,000 chickens were slaughtered to contain the virus which also killed numbers of egrets and pelicans The death of so many chickens has raised fears of an egg shortage and eggs are being imported to make up the loss.
There have not been any reported cases among humans so far.
Birds in Israel also face human threats. A bill has been introduced in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) to stiffen penalties for wildlife poisoning. The impetus for the bill was the poisoning of 9-12 vultures, up to six percent of the entire population in the country. Poisoners use illegal pesticides to kill wildlife including the vultures and endangered white tailed eagles. The proposed bill would stiffen penalties and give authorities greater power to search out lawbreakers.