TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli eagles dangerously endangered by pesticides, electrical wires and poachers now apparently face a new threat: Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar website recently boasted of capturing an eagle that carried an Israel-labeled transmission device on its back and claimed the bird was an Israeli spy. It said hunters in central Lebanon shot down the bird and found devices on it as well as a copper ring on its leg that reads "Israel" in English followed by letters that refer to Tel Aviv University. The fate of the eagle remains unclear.
Israeli ornithologist Yossi Leshem said Thursday he was tracking the bird for research and was "incredibly frustrated" it was harmed. Leshem, a Tel Aviv university professor, has specialized in the Bonelli's Eagle for decades and said they are in great peril with just nine pairs of mating age remaining in Israel.
"The whole field of conservation is based on regional cooperation and not this nonsense," said Leshem, who collaborates on several projects with Palestinian and Jordanian scientists.
Leshem said Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Turkey all have targeted migrating birds from Israel in the past and made similar unfounded espionage accusations.
Egyptian authorities, for instance, recently detained a stork that was tagged with a tracking device and claimed it was spying for Israel. Previously, Egypt has accused Israel's Mossad spy agency of training sharks to reach the Sinai Peninsula to harm tourism there.
"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," Leshem wrote in a recent essay after an Israeli common kestrel was captured and investigated by Turkey. "All the countries mentioned employ the same methods of research and use the same electronic devices in tracking birds and mammals in their studies, and yet the paranoia persists in the Middle East."