Rotshybraxes in Israel can lose the protected status for three years in an attempt to prevent the spread of leishmaniasis, a parasitic infection that causes them and causes skin ulcers.
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The Ministry of Environment published a report last week for public comment on the plan.
If the plan goes ahead, rockhyraxes would be reclassified as a plague and would face clearance in addition to other movements to remove them from human populations.
The nature and park authority in Israel treats the population control of protected animals, such as jackals and boars, without withdrawing their protected status. Photographing protected animals requires authorization from the authority and must take place under its supervision. But if the hyraxes lose protection, it is open season.
After three years, the results of the moves are evaluated and the status of the hyraxes is re-evaluated.
Nature conservation experts warn that uncontrolled movements can lead to the extinction of the hyraxes in Israel. Prof. dr. Amie Ilani from Bar-Ilan University points out that unrestrained hunting has almost led to the extinction of the mountain gazelle in the Golan Heights. Prof. dr. Ilani also points out that a reason for the mad proliferation of hyraxes in the hills of Israel is that most of their predators, like the Israeli leopard, have died out.
The hyrax-human connection
Hyraxes are one of about 70 different mammals – people are another – who can get leishmaniasis. Because they can not protect their beds with nets, hyraxes have become a natural reservoir of the leishmania parasite, as was demonstrated in 2010.
A study from 2008, conducted in the settlement on the West Bank of Ma & al. Adumim, found that the human cases of leishmaniasis were clustered in two neighborhoods located along slopes and caves inhabited by rock shraxes.
However, it should be noted that people do not catch leishmaniasis from hyraxes, which do not bite people. On the contrary, both people and hyraxes absorb the disease because of the bite of parasite-bearing sand flies. The disease can also spread when a sandfly bites an infected hyrax before it bites a human being. In the wild, hyraxes can live up to nine years – enough time to capture the parasite and share it with us.
The previous study showed that about 10 percent of the hyraxes caught around Ma & # 39; aleh Adumim had the condition. Other work has shown the diseases in the hills of Judea, Western Samaria and northeast of the Sea of Galilee.
Israel actually has three endemic species of leishmania: two, Leishmania Major and Leishmania tropica, cause shallow to deep skin ulcers that are difficult to treat, but rarely dangerous. The lesions may also appear in the mouth and nose.
It is the third species, leishmania infantum, that can kill by attacking the inner organs. There is still no vaccine for the condition. The treatment, which can take months to enter, involves painful injections – but in any case, the lesions can leave scars. The parasites can also develop immunity.
All three variations are usually diagnosed by seeing the parasites under the microscope.
"Leishmania is a serious disease and should be treated by preventing its distribution," says Prof. Yoram Yomtov from the University of Tel Aviv. There are ways other than killing the rodents: covering welcoming mountain stones with dirt or concrete; or relocation, for example by escorting their flight with temporary fencing. However, everything would be expensive – hence the idea of removing their protection and reclassification as a threat, such as cockroaches or rats, he says. "I would not be surprised if the local authorities start poisoning the hyraxes, which are also very dangerous to humans. Commonwealth and birds of prey eat the poisoned hyraxes, causing widespread secondary poisoning."
Half a billion risks
The World Health Organization estimates that currently more than 12 million people have leishmaniasis and that 500 million people are at risk of becoming infected in Africa, Europe, Asia and North and South America.
When the parasite invades our blood, instead of dodging our white blood cells, the fighters of the immune system, the parasite allows itself to swallow and multiplies into these cells, eventually affecting other body tissues. One result is that our number of white blood cells decreases. Another is the disease, which can only break out weeks or months after infection.
There is hope, however, that more effective treatments can come.
Visceral leishmaniasis is the second most deadly parasitic disease after malaria, says parasitologist Albert Descoteaux, who is working with medical scientist Steven LaPlante to develop medicinal chemistry for new treatments that hopefully are cheaper, more effective and less painful than the current ones. Their efforts – and the corresponding challenges were described this week in the INRS magazine.
Descoteaux and LaPlante have identified two families of molecules that could form the basis for future drugs against this pernicious, persistent parasite: indole and indazole derivatives.
But it is an early day. Stay informed and if you are traveling in the sand fly area, wear an insect repellent and / or long sleeves. Remember that it is not the hyrax (or the dog) that sticks its trunk into your skin.