More than 2,000 wild cranes have died in Israel from bird flu in a vast nature reserve in the north of the country, officials at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said on Sunday.
"So far, 2,000 wild cranes have died and an estimated 10,000 are infected," Ohad Hatsofe, an avian ecologist with the authority, told AFP.
"It is now estimated that one-fifth of the crane population in Israel has been affected by bird flu," said Uri Naveh, deputy director of the authority's scientific department.
There are cases every year in Israel, he said, "but this year it is more important," he said, and the number of dead animals since Monday is “exceptional”.
Since October more than 100,000 wild cranes have reached Israel and the majority stop in the Hula Valley in the north of the country to rest before taking to the skies again.
About 40,000 remain in Israel, mostly in this valley, before resuming their journey to the breeding grounds from March.
Other outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza have been detected in agricultural localities in northern Israel where poultry farms are located.
The Israeli Ministry of Agriculture said on Sunday it was suspending the marketing of eggs from these farms.
It also said it was putting in place measures to import eggs to cope with a possible shortage.
While the risk of transmission of bird flu to humans is very low, experts from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said, the H5N1 virus strain can be dangerous if contracted by humans.
"It is fatal for 36% to 50% of those infected," says Ohad Hatsofe.