Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Ten Griffons to help save vultures from extinction

With a wingspan of 2.3m to 2.8m and weighing between 4.5kg and 15kg, these are the largest birds in Cyprus

By Poly Pantelides

TEN Griffon vultures, the largest birds on the island with a wingspan of 2.3m to 2.8m and weighing between 4.5kg and 15kg are due to arrive from Crete today as part of an EU co-funded collaboration between Greece and Cyprus to save the glorious birds from extinction.

The large birds will be transported by Cyprus Airways and will join 15 others already here that arrived from Crete in an effort to enhance the vulture population, whose numbers are too low to ensure their survival.

Where there used to be at least 100 vultures in the 1960s, a population census in 2011 estimated there were only six to eight birds living in the wild in the south west, according to www.gypas.org, the Gypas project’s website. In the past, vulture numbers have diminished because they were hunted, killed by poison aimed for foxes and dogs, disturbed during breeding or because of intensified farming methods. They were declared an endangered species in 2003 and protected by law, but with only one or two couples breeding every year and even if their little ones did survive, the Cypriot birds were still vulnerable to diseases from inbreeding, as well as climate change.

So, BirdLife Cyprus, the Game Fund and the forestry department started mulling a rescue plan to supplement the local bird population. The vulture populations in Greece and Spain were the only ones that could afford to lose some of their members to other countries. Crete, which boasts a vulture population of over 400, was deemed the most suitable, genetically and geographically as well as in terms of the countries’ ecological profiles. In September 2011, rescue efforts started in earnest and the Gypas project was launched with the ten latest arrivals marking the project’s closure, though there is work cut out for Cyprus-based conservationists.

“Protecting this bird is very important for the Cyprus environment because the vultures clean up the countryside from various carcasses helping to maintain the ecosystem and save farmers from the cost of cremating the dead animals,” a news release said.

The newcomers will initially be held in specially-made facilities in Ay Yiannis in Paphos and Limassol’s Limnatis in order to be acclimatised before some of them can be released, probably by the end of the year.

The GYPAS project is 80 per cent funded by the EU, with the rest coming from the National Game Funds of Greece and Cyprus.

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