By Peter Stevenson
THE GYPAS project aimed at protecting and increasing the numbers of vultures in Cyprus within the cross border project with Greece between 2007 and 2013 was completed successfully BirdLife Cyprus has announced.
The project took place between September 2011 and January 2014 with the Game Fund as leading partner in cooperation with BirdLife Cyprus, the Forestry Department, The University of Crete, The Museum of Natural History in Crete and Gortynas Municipality in Crete.
“The aim of the GYPAS project was to protect the birds’ population in Cyprus which has seen a dramatic decrease over the last few years,” BirdLife said.
Ten Griffon vultures arrived from Crete in November as part of the project.
The large birds were transported by Cyprus Airways and joined 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.
“The recovery of the population is not considered feasible without enrichment with birds from other areas, preferably from geographically or genetically close populations,” BirdLife said.
The aim of the project was to increase the number of vultures in Cyprus with those from Crete as well as the creation of suitable facilities on both islands to help preserve and support the birds.
In Crete the major facilities created were a centre to help and rehabilitate exhausted and poisoned vultures undergoing recovery before their reintegration into the wild.
In Cyprus special cages were built to host birds from Crete to help acclimatise them before their release into the wild.
In addition to this there were public information and awareness campaigns about the depleted numbers of vultures which has been mainly caused by humans.
“Protecting vultures in Cyprus is considered to be very important for the island’s environment. The vulture helps to clean the countryside, helping to maintain healthy ecosystems and exempting farmers from the cost of incinerating dead animals,” BirdLife said.
Other than the financial benefits, maintaining vultures benefits eco-tourism and bird watching as well as environmental education, BirdLife concluded.
The GYPAS project is 80 per cent funded by the EU, with the rest coming from the National Game Funds of Greece and Cyprus.