Following a string of bad news – some poisoning incidents and no breeding pairs last year on the island, conservationists in Cyprus have finally rejoiced with some good news about Cyprus biggest – and most threatened, bird: this year there are three active griffon vulture nests, two in the last place to be occupied, the Episkopi Cliffs, but perhaps most significant one in Pafos district in an area where a significant colony of the species used to exist in the past but that has been empty in the last years. Further, the breeding pair occupying this nest belongs to birds which were brought from Crete through the GYPAS project.
Griffon vultures in Cyprus decreased to only 6-8 birds in 2011. The main reason for this decline was and still is poisoning through the illegal use of poisoned baits used for foxes and stray dogs. This, coupled with reduction of available food due to the reduction of traditional free-range grazing and disturbance during the nesting period, dealt a severe blow to the species.
This led BirdLife Cyprus, the Game and Fauna Service and the Department of Forests to start an emergency restoking project (GYPAS) with birds originating in Crete – a total of 25 birds were brought from the Greek island, where the species is very common.
Releases went well, but in the winter of 2015-2016 a string of poisoning incidents killed at least 7 vultures, and last year no breeding was recorded in Cyprus. It was then a relief to see three active nests this year, signalling that the legacy from the GYPAS project is finally coming to fruition.
However, there is a rocky road ahead – with the species reaching reproductive maturity at 3 – 4+ years and laying only one egg each time, it will take several years for the Cyprus population to recover. For this reason, the VCF urges Cypriot authorities to take all necessary measures to protect the species, with emphasis on combating the illegal use of poisons in the Cypriot countryside, which is one of the main threats currently faced by vultures and other big birds of prey there.
Photo: Bruno Berthémy/VCF