Griffon vultures were on the verge of extinction in Cyprus in 2011 – only 6-8 birds survived on that Mediterranean island, when BirdLife Cyprus, the Game and Fauna Service and the Department of Forests started an emergency restocking project (GYPAS) with birds originating in Crete – a total of 25 birds were brought from the Greek island, where the species is very common.
In Cyprus griffon vultures are impacted by the illegal use of poisoned baits used for foxes and stray dogs. Other threats include a reduction of available food due to the abandonment of traditional free-range grazing, and disturbance during the nesting period. Although project GYPAS included lots of actions on the threats, a string of poisoning incidents during the winter 2015-2016 killed at least 7 vultures. Last year no breeding was recorded in Cyprus, but this year 3 pairs nested again.
However, vultures are still being killed in Cyprus. Griffon Vulture ‘CAJ’, born in Crete in 2011, and brought to Cyprus in 2012, within the restocking project, was found dead this week at Zapalo beach in Episkopi, Limassol (see photos of the dead bird and the same bird photographed alive in the Cypriot skies).
A team from BirdLife Cyprus and the Game and Fauna Service collected the dead bird, and tests are now being done in order to establish the cause of death. The X-ray revealed shotgun pellets – so the bird had been shot at, but an autopsy is underway to confirm whether it was the shooting that killed the bird or whether it died of poisoning
With only around 20 vultures left on the island, each death comes at a great cost for the species’ survival. If measures are not taken urgently to address the existing threats, there is a grave danger that Griffon Vultures will disappear from Cyprus and all the efforts to protect the species will have been in vain.
Photos: BirdLife Cyprus