A massive outbreak of avian bird flu in Israel has killed more than 5,000 cranes, which authorities describe as a “worst blow” to wildlife in the country’s history.
Cranes that had died in northern Israel’s Hula Nature Reserve were discovered Sunday. At least 5,200 migratory cranes have died in Northern Israel, and farmers have been forced to slaughter hundreds of thousands of chickens to stop what authorities are calling the deadliest wildlife disaster in the country’s history.
Ranger teams wearing hazardous material suits collected the carcasses from the lake and nearby marshes in the reserve.
As part of efforts to contain the H5N1 outbreak, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with his national security adviser to discuss ways to prevent human transmission.
According to the office of the Prime Minister, no cases of human transmission have been reported.
Approximately 500,000 cranes pass through Israel on their way to Africa every year, and only a few remain behind, according to Yaron Michaeli, spokesman for the Hula Lake park. The Times of Israel reported that an estimated 30,000 cranes resided in Israel this winter, where authorities provide food for them to keep them from eating farmers’ crops.
Authorities believe a truck driver who delivered food to the reserve may have brought the H5N1 virus into the area. In addition, children who had visited the reserve and touched some of the stricken cranes could have spread the bird flu virus.
Authorities have declared the nature reserve off-limits to visitors because of the bird flu outbreak. Senior scientist Uri Naveh at the Israel Parks and Nature Authority said the situation is not under control. “Many of the birds have died in the water body, making it difficult to remove them from there.” he told reporters on Monday.
Michaeli, the spokesman for Hula Lake, where most of the cranes live, informed that workers are removing the carcasses as soon as possible, fearing that other wildlife could be infected.
Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman Dafna Yurista said half a million chickens are being slaughtered in the area to prevent the spread of disease. There is also a possibility of a shortage of eggs since poultry birds have been culled. In an effort to prevent a possible egg shortage caused by the culling measures, authorities were relaxing import restrictions and sourcing eggs from other countries.
Tamar Zandberg, the Environment Minister, said it may be the worst disaster for wildlife in the country’s history. “The extent of the damage is still not clear,” Zandberg tweeted. Hundreds of thousands of chickens have been culled, she said.
In an interview with Reshet Bet Radio, Tel Aviv University professor of zoology Noga Kronfeld Shor said that the deaths of thousands of birds in the Hula Nature Reserve, considered one of the world’s finest bird sanctuaries, are an extraordinary event with global repercussions.
If people are infected with the virus, it can be deadly. Over half of the confirmed 863 human cases since 2003 have proved fatal, according to the World Health Organization. The vast majority of strains and variants of H5N1, the avian flu, are relatively difficult to transmit to people.
Israel has been warned against approaching any wild bird that looks ill, or touching bird droppings.
Yoav Motro, a vertebrate and locust specialist with the Ministry of Agriculture in Israel, said for now, H5N1 is presenting itself in the opposite way as COVID, The chances of humans contracting this are very, very slight compared to COVID. However, unlike COVID, the risk of death from it is extremely high if you do get it. “This is a tragic ecological event,” he said. “We do not know what will happen next, or in what direction.”
Currently, no Israelis have been diagnosed with H5N1. However, those who have been exposed to wild birds are taking Tamiflu, which is an antiviral.