CONSERVATION OF RAPTORS IN THE HULA VALLEY
The Hula Nature Reserve in the north of Israel has been designated as a "Wetland of International Importance" by the Ramsar Convention. In the 1950s the Hula Valley, was drained for agricultural purposes and only a small area was preserved as the Hula Nature Reserve. In 1992, in the wake of surveys and reports which pinpointed the negative impacts of the drainage project, part of the area was reflooded as part of a rehabilitation effort. The Hula Valley, including the nature reserve and the recently reflooded area, is one of the most important migrating and wintering sites in the region for more than 200 species of birds including five endangered species according to BirdLife International and the IUCN List.
Recently, the Ramsar Small Grants Fund for Wetland Conservation and Wise Use approved a financial grant to the Israel Ornithological Center of the Society for the Protection of Nature for a research project on two of the endangered raptor species that winter in the Hula Valley: the Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) and the Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga). The two species are dependent on the agricultural areas in the Hula Valley which suffer from a proliferation of rodents due to the peat soils created by the drying of the wetlands in the mid-1950s. On the other hand, pesticides are widely used in the area in order to control the agricultural damage caused by the rodents. Therefore, the project aims to study, on the one hand, the effects of pesticides and intensive agriculture on these two species, and on the other hand, their contribution to preserving the natural equilibrium of the Hula wetlands and surrounding agricultural fields.
The main objective of the project is to promote the conservation of these two target species and to preserve the wetlands themselves by:
* Studying the impact of intensive agriculture and tourism on the two target species;
* Studying the ecological requirements of these two species in order to develop a proper management plan for the entire area;
* Encouraging the cooperation of local farmers in protecting these species and educating them as to the importance and advantage of these raptors to the agricultural areas;
* Establishing an interactive education and conservation program for local youth.
In order to fulfill these objectives, several methods will be undertaken. Land surveys will be conducted to define the habitats used by the two eagle species. Radio telemetry transmitters will be used to track the movements of the species within the Hula wetlands and the surrounding areas. Pellet contents will be studies in order to define the food requirements of the species. Blood samples of six birds of each species will be taken and analyzed in order to monitor the presence of pesticides in the eagles’ bodies.
An educational program will constitute an integral part of the project. As part of the program, students will track the eagles marked with transmitters as part of personal projects and will identify pellet content and correlate the data with surveys conducted on local fauna. The students will present the projects to the local community, thereby increasing public awareness of conservation efforts in the Hula Valley. All relevant stakeholders-including local farmers and decision makers-will thus be involved in the project. In the future, a management plan will be developed in cooperation with local authorities, landowners and developers to improve the conservation of the two species and to help preserve this unique wetland habitat.