An innocent Israeli griffin vulture was briefly detained by Lebanese villagers this week, fearful that the bird was spying.
Those fears turned out to be unfounded, but the accusation against the vulture is just the most recent in a long history of animal spy suspicions between the sparring nations.
If this creature (also called a Eurasian griffin) has any mission at all, it isn’t to collect intelligence in Lebanon, rather it’s to help replenish a struggling population in Israel, where the birds are endangered, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The vulture makes its home in the Gamla Nature Preserve, where it was flown in from Catalonia a month ago. The bird has been allowed to fly without restriction as part of this goal to stimulate population growth in the country, United Press International added.
So the Israeli vulture was tagged with a tracking device from Tel Aviv University and allowed to go on its way, doing whatever it is vultures do. But then it flew a bit too far — 2.5 miles into Lebanon. Officials knew it had made the trip, Agence France-Presse reported, but the signal cut out as soon as it arrived in Bint Jbeil
Little did they know, the creature had been detained.
Then the reports came in: the Israeli vulture had been detained by locals who were suspicious of the tags and devices attached to it and wary that the bird would attack citizens. Pictures of the detained creature also surfaced: one featuring its tags and a rope tied around its leg, one of a transmitter on its back, and another of two men holding it to display its wingspan.
The devices that had so raised the suspicion of the Lebanese were simply an identifying ring on its leg from the university, tags on its wings, and a GPS transmitter. Not spy equipment.
The Israeli people noticed the pictures on Facebook and started making calls en masse on behalf of the detained animal. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority was alerted.
The authority was not pleased with the pictures.
“Reports passed to us show the vulture tied with a rope by local people who write that they suspect Israeli espionage apparently because of the transmitter attached to him. In the 21st century, we expect people to understand that wild animals are not harmful. We hope that the Lebanese will release him.”
Bird ecologist Ohad Hatzofe called the capture of the Israeli vulture “senseless” but noted that he understood “the suspicions with the history we have in this region.”
Thankfully for the animal, the locals released it in the same spot that they had detained him after they had made “certain that it was not carrying any hostile [spying] equipment” and didn’t pose a threat to anyone. Since it was released, authorities haven’t been able to track it.
“It would not be the first time residents of south Lebanon have found birds that serve Israel for research purposes,” a local paper reported.
And it’s not the first time they assumed that an animal was spying for Israel. As CNN put it, this latest incident, and the ones that have come before it, is just an example of the “fog of mistrust and conspiracy” between Israel and the rest of the Middle East.
Last summer, Palestinian media reported that Hamas rulers suspected a dolphin of spying after it was detained off their coastline in the Mediterranean, outfitted with video cameras. In 2011, the Saudis accused a different vulture of espionage — it also had a GPS transmitter and university ID tag. And the year before that, Israeli spy agency Mossad was linked by the Egyptians to Red Sea sharks attacks.
[Photo by Jana Vodickova/Shutterstock]