Seven Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) have been found dead and although authorities and conservationists suspect poisoning, they have been unable to confirm the exact cause of death to date.
Three of the dead birds were part of around 20 imported from Greece in a bid to boost the island’s dwindling population and three were natives. The seventh vulture had been born at Limassol’s zoo.
According to BirdLife Cyprus, the birds were found dead in Paramali/Sterakovou area in Limassol in the past few weeks and were collected by the Game Service.
They were sent for necropsy to the Veterinary Services but the exact cause of death has not been determined so far even though the first deaths had been reported almost a month ago.
BirdLife suspects the cause is poisoning, either primary – the birds may have eaten poisoned bait, which was unlikely, or secondary poisoning, meaning the birds ate an animal that had eaten something with poison (e.g. an animal who ate rodenticide).
A third possibility according to BirdLife, may be that the birds consumed an animal, which had been treated with non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are extremely toxic for all vultures and are the main cause of the serious population decline (by 99 per cent) of three species of the Gyps genus during the 1990s in India whose populations have still not recovered.
BirdLife urged the authorities to treat the incidents as very urgent and extremely important and to carry out all necessary tests to establish the cause of death.
“If this continues then the entire population of Griffon Vulture in Cyprus will collapse. Establishing the cause of death is the only way to find a way to deal with this serious problem,” BirdLife executive director Claire Papazoglou said.
BirdLife Cyprus has expressed its willingness to cooperate and assist in the investigation and offered to contribute to any expenses for the tests that need to be done.
It’s worth noting that in some EU countries and in Israel there is vast experience and expertise in dealing with such matters which in this case should be taken advantage of, BirdLife said.
There is a very real danger that all efforts made as part of the GYPAS project for the strengthening of the Griffon Vulture population in Cyprus under the ‘Cross Border Cooperation Programme Greece-Cyprus 2007-2013’, with participation of the Game and Fauna Service, BirdLife Cyprus and Department of Forests in Cyprus, will end up in vain.
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.
Numbers diminished in the past because vultures 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, even if their little ones did survive, the Cypriot birds were still vulnerable to diseases from inbreeding, as well as climate change.