Lebanese authorities have “arrested” an unlikely spy–a vulture with a two-meter wingspan that entered the country from an Israeli nature preserve.
According to local media, the bird left Gamla Nature Reserve heading for the village of Bint Jbeil. Locals quickly suspected it, because it had Israeli tags and devices. Photos of the Lebanese men displaying the massive wingspan and the Israeli tags soon surfaced on the Internet.
The griffin vulture is part of a Middle Eastern conservation project to restore the species to locations from which it has disappeared in recent years, and has a GPS transmitter attached to it, as well as a metal leg ring identifying it as part of a study at nearby Tel Aviv University.
“[Locals in Lebanon] caught the bird for sure,” says Ohad Hatzofe, an ecologist at Gamla, which is located in the contested area of Golan Heights. “They were holding the bird in their hands.”
After the Lebanese became “certain that it was not carrying any hostile [spying] equipment,” it was let go in the same area that it was found, reported local Arabic news site bintjbeil.org.
However, the Israeli team that had been tracking the vulture has been unable to locate it, suggesting that the GPS tracking device was removed.
Hatzofe called the “spy” idea “senseless” but added: “I can understand the suspicions with the history we have in this region.”
“In the 21st century we expect that people would understand that wild animals are not harmful and that their role is to act according to nature,” said Hatzofe.
Israel has long had a controversial relationship with the rest of the Middle East, with several animals over the years having been accused of spying for the country–including sharks and dolphins.
In 2010, according to the BBC, Egypt accused spy agency Mossad of coordinating a series of shark attacks in the Red Sea in an attempt to damage Egyptian tourism.
Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha, the regional governor, claimed “What is being said about the Mossad throwing the deadly shark in the sea to hit tourism in Egypt is not out of the question. But it needs time to confirm.”
According to The Sun, officials were criticized for opening the beach at Sharm el Sheikh the day after a German snorkeler was killed by a shark.
Tourism minister Zuhair Garana said: “Diving is being allowed. We are advised that sharks will not attack divers. I cannot say that deep waters are completely secure, but shallow waters are 100 percent safe.”
Most tourism firms were forced to cancel all their water-sports activities during that period due to the attacks.
Additionally, last year, militant Palestinian group Hamas claimed to have captured a dolphin equipped with spying devices, including a camera, off its coast, newspaper al-Quds reported.
A naval unit of the military wing spotted it and brought it ashore, but they did not release any photographs to prove what they claimed they found, although Hamas did claim that the dolphin had been “stripped of its will” and turned into a “murderer” by Israel, and that it must be retaliation at Hamas because of the rival country’s “anger” and “indignation” at the Hamas combat unit.
Israeli authorities did not comment. The vulture found this week wasn’t even the first bird accused of “colluding” with Israeli spies.
In 2010, Saudi Arabian authorities detained a different vulture they claimed was equipped with a GPS transmitter and announced that it must have been a Mossad operative.
In 2012, Turkish villagers found a small migratory bird with a band on its legs and feared they too had found a spy, though they were later proved wrong.
Wildlife biologists in the Middle East clearly have a hard road ahead of them if this is what will occur every time people intercept an animal with a tracking device, at least until word gets out that these animals are not spies.