5,000 Wild Cranes Found Dead in Avian Flu Outbreak

Thousands of birds, some of them migrating cranes, seen in the Hula Valley. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

An estimated 5,000 wild cranes have been found dead at the Hula Lake Reserve in northern Israel, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection on Sunday.

An additional 250 dead were found in the vicinity of the reserve and another 30 in the Yizreel Valley, the ministry said.

The news comes amid an outbreak of avian flu that has seen the culling of more than half a million chickens and turkeys.

Feeding is continuing since the outbreak of the H5N1 virus at the lake and in chicken sheds at Moshav Margaliot near the Lebanese border to try to keep the cranes from flying elsewhere and taking the virus with them.

The Agriculture Ministry has said that the farmers on the moshav failed to report the outbreak in time, thus allowing it to spread rapidly.

The Hula Reserve has been closed to the public for at least the rest of this week.

Earlier in the day, the Agriculture Ministry announced that 320,000 laying hens near Margaliot are to be culled in the coming days, in addition to the 244,000 that have been killed in the town over the past week.

The move is expected to cause a shortage of some 14 million eggs, out of the 200 million eggs Israelis consume each month.

The ministry also stated that it was concerned about the possibility of people being infected with the virus via the coops that are adjacent to homes in the moshav.

Many of the chickens were dead by the time ministry inspectors arrived. In one coop, only 70 chickens were found alive out of 2,000.

The farm has been sealed off, as well as facilities receiving eggs from it.

Agriculture Minister Oded Forer has described crowded chicken coops as “a ticking time bomb” that need to be moved from communities to isolated breeding complexes with strict biological safety levels.

Plans to do so were approved in 2007, but never implemented.

According to Agriculture Ministry figures, 93% of chicken coops meet neither the sanitation nor animal welfare requirements of the Israel Veterinary Services.

While more than half of the European Union’s laying hens are now raised in cage-free coops, the figure for Israel is only 3.2%, according to Poultry Industry Council figures, with the rest crammed tightly into cages.