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Cyprus: 15 Griffon Vultures travelled from Spain to strengthen the Critically Endangered local population

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Another 15 Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) from Spain travelled to Cyprus by plane to help secure the future of the Critically Endangered local population. In total, 44 vultures have been transferred to Cyprus, 29 of which are already exploring Cypriot skies. An important conservation action within the LIFE with Vultures project.

15 Griffon Vultures from Spain have arrived in Cyprus, December 2023 © BirdLife Cyprus

15 Griffon Vultures travelled from Spain to Cyprus

The Griffon Vultures were transported to a special acclimatisation aviary of the Game and Fauna Service in the Limassol province, where they will stay for a minimum of six months. Similar to previous vultures released on the island, these birds will be equipped with satellite transmitters to monitor their movements and provide timely intervention in case of any issues.

The birds are originally from Spain, which is home to 90-95% of Europe’s Griffon Vulture population, with an estimated 30,000 pairs. The selected birds are young individuals who hatched in the wild and entered AMUS Wildlife Hospital due to injury or weakness. After receiving care and fully recovering, they are now joining the population reinforcement programme in Cyprus, ongoing since 2019, thanks to the support of Junta de Extremadura and AMUS. At the Vulture Conservation Foundation, as project partners, we secure the transfer of the birds and our partners in Cyprus, Birdlife Cyprus and TerraCypria received them.

Saving “Critically Endangered” Cypriot Griffon Vulture population

Introducing birds from other regions to strengthen and maintain populations of threatened species is a common practice worldwide. Given the extremely low number of Griffon Vultures in Cyprus, the slow reproduction rate of the species (last season all breeding attempts failed), and frequent poisoning incidents, the Griffon Vulture population in Cyprus cannot recover without human intervention.

According to a study by the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the Cypriot population is predicted to disappear within the next 15 years if poisoning incidents remain at current high levels (four poisoning incidents every five years!). However, with conservation actions such as addressing the use of poisoned baits, the most serious threat to the species, and simultaneously reinforcing the population through bird introductions, population recovery can be achieved within the next 25 years.

Releasing Griffon Vultures is not enough: mortality causes need to be addressed

Of the 29 Spanish vultures released so far, four birds have been lost. Two died after colliding with power lines (one from hitting aerial power lines and one from electrocution), one due to poisoning, and one due to disorientation. Actions are already being implemented under the LIFE with Vultures project to address the causes of mortality in the population.

Collision and electrocution

To mitigate mortality related to electricity infrastructure, the project team is working with the Electricity Authority of Cyprus to mark high-risk aerial lines and insulate poles to reduce the risk of electrocution.

Illegal wildlife poisoning

Regarding the threat of poisoning, actions include deploying two teams of poison detection dogs tirelessly patrolling the Cypriot countryside. These teams play a significant and crucial role in detecting and preventing poisoning incidents in the wild, contributing not only to vulture conservation but also to the protection of other wildlife vulnerable to poisoning, as well as companion animals such as dogs and cats.

Additionally, thanks to the collaboration of all relevant authorities and stakeholders, a specific individual was linked to the illegal placement of poisoned bait last December—the first such case in Cyprus. This individual was fined 21,000 euros by the Game and Fauna Service and the Police for the offenses of killing protected wild birds using poison and intentional killing and/or capture of a protected wild bird.

The LIFE with Vultures project

Life with vultures logo square

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 ServiceTerra 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

The LIFE with Vultures team expresses gratitude to all who contributed to transferring the birds to Cyprus, namely:

  • The government of Spain and the Local Authorities of Extremadura for providing the vultures.
  • AMUS Wildlife Hospital for the care and temporary accommodation of the vultures before their departure.
  • Hermes Airports for providing access to airport facilities upon the vultures’ arrival.
  • Lufthansa for transporting the vultures.
  • The EU, the LIFE program, and the Tasso Leventis Conservation Foundation for co-funding this effort.

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