A vulture that flew into Lebanon from an Israeli nature reserve has been captured on suspicion of spying, according to local media reports.
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.
A series of pictures also surfaced: one of a vulture with Israeli tags and a rope tied around its leg; another of a transmitter on the same bird's back; and another of two men displaying the bird's massive wingspan.
The huge griffin vulture -- which is part of a conservation project to restore the raptors in the Middle East -- has a metal ring on its leg indicating it is from Tel Aviv University, tags on its wings, and a GPS transmitter attached to its tail.
"[Locals in Lebanon] caught the bird for sure," says Ohad Hatzofe, bird ecologist at the reserve in the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied from Syria in 1967. "They were holding the bird in their hands."
The vulture was released in the same place it was caught after it was "certain that it was not carrying any hostile [spying] equipment," according to local Arabic news site bintjbeil.org
. Since then, the Israeli parks authority has not been able to track where the vulture went and is worried about its health.
Hatzofe dismissed the idea of a vulture spy as "senseless" but added: "I can understand the suspicions with the history we have in this region."
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 militant Palestinian Palestinian group that runs Gaza, claimed to have captured off its coast an Israeli dolphin equipped with spying devices, according to Palestinian newspaper al-Quds