An outbreak of avian influenza has killed thousands of cranes in Israel, in what Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg called “the most serious damage to wildlife in the history of the country.” On Monday, Zandberg ended Israel’s hunting season in an effort to reduce the risk of the flu spreading to humans and other wildlife. “The high mortality of cranes and other birds found to be infected with avian flu indicates a serious and unusual outbreak, and we must act immediately to minimize contact between wild birds and humans, and prevent further spread, banning hunting during the current season is necessary,” she said in a statement.
After being discovered among chicken on Dec. 25, the virus has spread to poultry throughout the country and to wild birds. At least 5,200 cranes stopping over at a reserve in the Hula Valley on their migration to Africa were found dead. Another 10,000 were believed to be infected. “This is an infection event of a magnitude we have not experienced here before,” Agriculture Minister Oded Forer said.