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Israeli 'spy vulture' captured by Lebanese townsfolk

The griffon vulture is the focus of a reintroduction conservation project in Israel [Twitter]

Date of publication: 28 January, 2016

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And no, 'spy vulture' isn't the codename of the latest high-tech drone aircraft...
A vulture believed to have nested in an Israeli nature reserve was captured in Lebanon this week - on suspicion of espionage - local media has reported.

Locals in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil caught the "shifty-looking" raptor, after noticing number tags on its two-metre-span wings, along with a tracking device on its back and an identification ring on its leg with "Tel Aviv, Israel" inscribed on it.

Townspeople tied up its beak and legs - but after determining the bird posed no immediate threat, it was released.

A local pro-Hizballah paper said this was not the first time a bird with Israeli tags had flown into the town, which is several miles from a nature reserve in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority had called for the bird to be set free.

"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," a statement by the authority said.

      The Israeli identification ring [Twitter]
"In the 21st century we expect people to understand that wild animals are not harmful. We hope that the Lebanese will release him," it added.

Experts responsible for tracking the rare bird's movements had reportedly been aware for some days that it had flown about four kilometres into Lebanon.

The bird is a griffon vulture, which is nearly extinct in the Levant and is the focus of a reintroduction project. As part of this scheme, vultures are tagged with radio transmitters and labels to keep track of the population.

Ill-eagle immigration

But conspiracy theories involving Israeli animal espionage are common in the Middle East.

Last summer, Palestinian media reported claims by the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers that they had managed to apprehend a spy dolphin off their Mediterranean coastline, apparently equipped with video cameras for an Israeli mission. It should be noted, in this case, aside from the conspiracy, that dolphins do, in fact, have a long history of being used for military porpoises.

Back in 2011, Saudi media reported that a vulture carrying a GPS transmitter and an identification ring from Tel Aviv University had been detained by security forces who suspected it was being used for espionage.

And in 2010, Israel's foreign ministry was forced to dismiss Egyptian reports linking a spate of Red Sea shark attacks to Israel's Mossad intelligence agency.

But paranoia over fluffy spymaster critters is not confined to the Middle East.

Nearly 200 years ago, during the Napoleonic Wars - in what may have been the first case of its kind - the townsfolk of Hartlepool, on England's north-east coast, were said to have captured a monkey that had washed up on the local beach. It was thought to be the mascot of a shipwrecked enemy ship, and said to have been dressed in a French military uniform.

But fearing espionage was afoot, they put the animal on trial. And after the creature was unresponsive to questioning, they hanged the monkey.

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