Good news from Cyprus, as 14 Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) originally from Spain arrived safe on the island on 2 March 2023 as part of the LIFE With Vultures project to boost the recovery of the local population. The birds are now in their new acclimatisation facility, where they will spend the upcoming months getting used to the new landscape before, being released into the wild.
Restocking the critically endangered Griffon Vulture population in Cyprus
The arrival of these Griffon Vultures is an important step towards restocking the critically endangered species in the country and reversing the dramatic decline of the local population over the last decades. Back in the 1950s, there were hundreds of Griffon Vultures flying across Cypriot skies. However, human threats such as illegal wildlife poisoning and the lack of food availability led to a population decrease of 94%, driving the species to the brink of extinction. With only a few individuals left in the country, the species would not be able to recover without human intervention. Therefore, since 2019, when the EU-funded LIFE With Vultures project launched, we have been working with our partners to boost the species’ recovery in Cyprus by restocking the population and tackling the main threats that Griffon Vultures face.
From Spain to Cyprus: Griffon Vultures are healthy and adapting to the new facility
On 2 March, the second group of Griffon Vultures arrived safely in Cyprus in an operation that involved many stakeholders. The 14 juvenile birds hatched in Spain and entered AMUS Wildlife Hospital to recover from injuries or poor health status. The vultures, donated by Junta de Extremadura, underwent health checks and completed quarantine at AMUS before being transferred by the Vulture Conservation Foundation. They travelled with Emirates by plane to Cyprus, were received by HERMES airports and were welcomed by the Game and Fauna Service and Birdlife Cyprus teams.
The Griffon Vultures were transferred to a special acclimatisation aviary where they will spend the next 5-6 months getting used to their new landscape before freely exploring Cypriot skies. Ahead of their release, they will be fitted with GPS transmitters to monitor their movements or act swiftly in case they need to be rescued.
Spain is home to the largest European population of Griffon Vulture, with an estimate of 30.100-36.500 individuals, according to the latest report on population estimates for the five European vulture species produced in 2022 by the VCF. Therefore, they are essential partners in the restocking efforts for Griffon Vulture and other vulture species in Europe.
Updates on the first Spanish Griffon Vultures reintroduced in Cyprus
The first import of Griffon Vultures from Spain happened in November 2021. Thanks to a collaboration with the Junta de Extremadura, 15 birds coming from rehabilitation centres in Spain travelled over 4000 km to get to their new home. After an acclimatisation period, the birds were released in September 2022 and were equipped with GPS transmitters ahead of the release.
Unfortunately, some days after the release, a Griffon Vulture fell into the sea and drowned, probably due to exhaustion, and another named Gyprios died of electrocution on an electricity pylon. The remaining reintroduced birds are adapting well and exploring the island. They successfully joined the existing population and are often seen in the feeders run by our local partners.
Tackling threats to ensure the population’s recovery
The use of Illegal poison baits is the main threat Griffon Vultures face in the country. In the scope of the project LIFE with Vultures, protocols to resolve human-wildlife poisoning are being developed, and two dog units for the detection of poisoning incidents will be set. Recently, prosecuting authorities issued a €21,000 fine for poisoning and killing wild birds. This was the first fine ever issued in the country for wildlife crime, representing a big step forward that will hopefully deter future similar illegal actions. The project is also working on supplying food to vultures, with the maintenance of a vulture feeder, and will secure power lines to minimise the risk of collision.
We look forward to seeing how the Griffon Vultures will adapt to their new home. Thank you to all partners and organisations involved in safely transporting the birds to Cyprus.
The LIFE with Vultures project
LIFE with Vultures is a targeted conservation project for the protection of the Griffon Vulture in Cyprus. In this four-year endeavor (2019-2023), BirdLife Cyprus, the Game and Fauna Service, Terra Cypria – The Cyprus Conservation Foundation and the Vulture Conservation Foundation have joined forces to tackle the main threats facing the Griffon Vulture and prevent Cyprus’ most threatened bird of prey from going extinct. The project has a 1,375,861 Euro budget and is co-funded (60%) by the EU’s LIFE programme.