Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin suggested changing the legal status of the hyraxes to pests on Thursday.
If the legal change in status passes, the Israeli rock hyrax will be outside the protection of the law. The Ministry of Environmental Protection invites the public to comment on the issue.
The decision is due to the spread of cutaneous leishmaniasis (“Aleppo boils”) in Israel, which the hyrax helps spread.
Although rodent-like, rock hyraxes (shafan sela in Hebrew, meaning “rock rabbit”) are taxonomically more closely related to elephants. They are legally protected under the status of a wild animal and are not to be harmed.
The change in legal status is suggested to last for a three-year period and is meant to aid in the reduction of the number of rock hyraxes, in the hope of diminishing the number of Aleppo boil cases.
Cutaneous Leishmaniasis is caused by female sand flies biting animals, for example rock hyraxes or dogs, and infecting them. Humans bitten by an infected animal can likewise become infected.
Rock hyraxes are found countrywide and do not fear humans. As their name suggests, they enjoy living in or near rocks and are excellent at making their homes in construction waste dumps. They are also excellent climbers and will devour private gardens as well as wild plants. Unfortunately, this also means that they live in closer and closer contact with humans.
In a document written by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in 2011, guidelines are provided on how to keep rock hyraxes at bay. They include building better fences near human communities and making sure they won’t be able to invade construction sites to nest there. Such efforts are costly and there is little indication that they have been implemented.
The concern of animal lovers and scientists is that the removal of the legal protection currently enjoyed by the hyraxes would mean that an open hunting season would be declared on them for three years with no way of knowing if their population would survive.
Critics of hunting as a means of population control point to the Arab world, where rampant hunting diminished the wildlife populations in great numbers, remarking that this is a fate Israel should seek to avoid.