The Palestinian inhabitants of Hebron have grown accustomed to raids by the Israel Defense Forces, but the raid carried out by paratroopers of Brigade 202 last week was out of the ordinary.
The paratroopers were not searching for participants in any terror actions, but rather for the victim of thievery and illegal commerce: the rare Golden Eagle, which the paratroopers were searching for with the aid of Israel Nature and Parks Authority personnel.
All of this was part of a joint battle to save the population of raptors in the region, which has been suffering the depredations of wildlife rustlers and traders. In the wake of intelligence information obtained by the INPA about the illegal presence of Golden Eagles in a house in Hebron, the authority requested help from the IDF.
A paratrooper force set out for the house together with an INPA ranger, Aviam Atar. The force came to the suspect's house, but the eagles were not found there.
After questioning, the inhabitants of the house led the soldiers to a shop in the town, and there the two eagles were found in good condition, overall. Atar, who was equipped with special sleeves to protect his arms from the eagles' sharp talons, took them away to the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem.
There it will be decided whether to release them in nature or whether they will have to spend the rest of their lives behind bars. In the wake of the operation, two suspects were arrested, taken for questioning to the Hebron police station and subsequently released on bail.
The Judean Desert is one of the last big refuges for birds of prey in Israel - a number of species of large eagles (the Golden Eagle and Bonelli's Eagle) as well as a large concentration of vultures. These birds are threatened by poisoning, illegal hunting, the destruction of habitats by building and the dwindling of their natural food supply. The threat of poaching for purposes of commerce also harms the few nests they still manage to maintain in the desert.
Most of the birds that are trapped or stolen from nests are taken for sale in the territories or smuggled to the Gulf states, where there is considerable demand for these birds, some of which are trained to hunt.
It is estimated that in the past there were nearly 50 nesting pairs of Golden Eagles in the desert areas of Israel and the territories. During the past two decades their number has decreased by 50 percent, and this is a species that is in danger of extinction.
The Golden Eagle (which used to be known as the Rock Eagle) lives in pairs, each of which guards a territory of tens of square kilometers. It eats wild prey, including rabbits and foxes. It nests mostly on rocky ledges, and sometimes in one area there can be up to 10 nests.
The eagle pair will brood every year in one of them. The INPA rangers have discovered several cases of stolen raptor chicks and also instances of Palestinian inhabitants rappelling to the nests and taking young chicks from them. In one case, a nest that had been burned was found in the desert, apparently a reprisal action by Bedouin in the wake of INPA activity against illegal hunting. Last year Atar had help from another IDF unit in a search in a Bedouin locale in the desert, during which they found two Golden Eagles shackled in chains. Those eagles were taken to the Biblical Zoo and were not returned to nature.