BEIRUT (Web Desk) – A huge griffin vulture detained in Lebanon on suspicion of spying for Israel has been returned home after intervention by UN peacekeepers.
Gamla Nature Reserve tracked the bird to near the southern Lebanese village of Bint Jbeil, which is just a few kilometers over the border from Israel – then reports began trickling in that the bird was being held by locals who suspected it because it had Israeli tags and devices.
The bird, which has a 1.9m (6ft 5in) wing span, flew over the border from an Israeli game reserve and was caught by Lebanese villagers on Tuesday.
They became suspicious as the griffon vulture had a tracking device attached to its tail.
Read more: India jails Pakistani ‘spy pigeon’
It is part of a conservation project to reintroduce raptors to the Middle East.
Tel Aviv University is involved in tracking the bird, and as well as a GPS transmitter, it had tags on its wings and an engraved metal ring on its leg saying: “Tel Aviv Univ Israel”.
Wildlife officials in Israel were alerted to its capture when photos of the tied-up bird appeared on social media.
“In a discreet operation with the Lebanese and with the great help of UN forces and the UN liaison unit, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority was able to return the vulture that was caught a few days ago by villagers of Bint Jbeil, Lebanon,” an Israeli statement released on Friday said.
The Lebanese media says the villagers freed the vulture after it became clear it was not on a spying mission.
After its ordeal the bird was weak and was being treated for minor injuries, officials said.
Animals mistaken for spies
This vulture is the latest animal suspected of espionage in the fog of mistrust and conspiracy that typifies Israel’s relationship with the rest of the Middle East.
In 2010, Israel dismissed Egyptian claims that its intelligence agency Mossad was behind a series of shark attacks in the Red Sea meant to damage Egypt’s tourism industry, according to the BBC.
Shortly after, Saudi officials “detained” a griffon vulture, which was fitted with a GPS tracker and a metal ring from Tel Aviv University, on suspicion of being a Mossad spy, according to Haaretz.
Last year, Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls parts of Gaza, claimed to have captured off its coast an Israeli dolphin equipped with spying devices, according to Palestinian newspaper al-Quds.