Seven Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) that arrived in Cyprus in March this year have now been set free, bringing renovated hope for the Critically Endangered Cypriot population. Originally from Spain, the birds have been in the acclimatisation aviary since their arrival on the island. Come September’s end, the LIFE with Vultures team fitted seven out of fourteen Griffon Vultures with GPS transmitters. Their cage doors are open; they can freely soar through Cypriot skies. We wish the Griffon Vultures a long and fruitful life in the wild.
Seven Griffon Vultures released in Cyprus
In March 2023, 14 Griffon Vulture juveniles arrived in Cyprus after a long journey by plane. The wild-hatched juvenile birds had been rescued in weakened conditions in Spain, and after being fully rehabilitated, they were donated by Junta de Extremadura. Home to 90-95% of the Griffon Vulture population in Europe, Spain is a key player in several restocking projects ongoing in Europe with different vulture species.
The Griffon Vultures were taken to the acclimatisation aviary, where they stood during the last months. The LIFE for Vultures team follows a soft-release strategy, which is proven to perform better in the long-term home range stability and survival rate of the released birds. The first batch was set free in the last days of September, whilst the remaining seven birds will be released in the upcoming weeks.
Securing the future of the endangered Griffon Vulture population
The Cypriot Griffon Vulture population is considered critically endangered. With less than 30 individuals in the wild and geographical isolation from other colonies (which prevents the natural expansion of conspecifics), the leading solution to boost the local guild is bringing new individuals from other regions. Collaborative efforts to save the species began in 1987 and are ongoing until today, thanks to the Life with Vultures project.
The LIFE for Vultures brought a first batch of fifteen Griffon Vultures, also from Spain, in November 2021. The birds have been released in September 2022, and four have unfortunately lost their lives. The remaining reintroduced birds are adapting well and exploring the island. The newcomers are now expected to follow the steps of their compatriots and mingle with the local community, sharing roosting and feeding areas.
Cypriot Griffon Vulture population on the spotlight
The story of the endangered Cypriot Griffon Vulture population has captured the attention of numerous media outlets in Cyprus and abroad. Fostering awareness of their vulnerable state and vital role in maintaining healthy ecosystems is a crucial step towards having the necessary social and political support.
Watch a short interview with the LIFE for Vultures team, after minute 12:22
Main threats affecting Griffon Vulture survival in Cyprus
Just nine days after the release in 2022, two birds drowned, an unfortunate fate as birds ventured too far from the island and fell into the sea exhausted. Apart from this natural threat, other problems hinder the success of conservation actions. One Griffon Vulture fatally collided with a power line; another was electrocuted. The LIFE for Vultures team is partnering with the Electrity Authority in Cyprus to mark a significant extension of power lines and secure electric poles.
Another sad event struck us this summer: the only Griffon Vulture pair attempting to breed this season failed. Indiscriminate human disturbance around the nesting area might have contributed to this result. In many countries, poisoning continues to be one of the main threats for vultures, killing indiscriminately yearly. Cyprus is no exception; last year, at least three Griffon Vultures died in a poisoning incident, one adult and two chicks on the nest.
Helping tackle the threat of poisoning
Since 2005, 31 vultures have been poisoned, a massive blow to the conservation efforts to save the Cypriot guild from the brink of extinction. Within the LIFE for Vultures project, a training seminar based on the Wildlife Crime Academy was organised to increase the response to poisoning incidents. Coordinated by Birdlife Cyprus with the support of Junta de Andalucia and project partners, the seminar provided theoretical and practical knowledge to enable participants to implement the necessary investigation procedures to solve wildlife crime incidents.
Developments have been seen in Cyprus; earlier this year, a man was issued a €21.000 fine for wildlife crime, the first-ever conviction in the country. The man was responsible for the death of a Bonelli’s Eagle and a Goshawk, poisoned by Carbofuran, a highly toxic substance banned in the EU since 2008The project has anti-poison dog units in place to support a faster response in identifying and removing poisoned baits and deter those who illegally use poison baits in the countryside.
The LIFE with Vultures project
LIFE with Vultures is a targeted conservation project to protect the Griffon Vulture in Cyprus. In this four-year endeavour (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.