Environmental NGO BirdLife Cyprus on Friday hit back at comments made by the Animal Party suggesting the group had failed to save the Griffon vulture from extinction in Cyprus.

“While we understand the Animal Party’s concern for the future of the Griffon vulture in Cyprus, we cannot see the logic of criticising concerted efforts to save a species on the brink of extinction. It is important to realise that any success in the field of nature conservation does not happen overnight, especially for species such as the Griffon vulture, a species with a slow reproduction rate that takes many years for its population to recover,” BirdLife said in a statement.

The Animal Party also questioned the funding being pumped into the project, which is co-funded by taxpayer money.

“The effort to save the vulture has been tragic and even criminally unacceptable,” the Animal party’s statement said.

“Questions must be asked about how the money allotted to the programmes was spent. From 2019 to 2023 the new effort, ‘Life with Vultures’, with a budget of €1,375,861, and 60 per cent EU funded, also failed, and there remains a single pair of birds with very slim chances of reproduction,” the party said.

The party went on to demand explanations from authorities as well as NGOs over the repeated failures noting also that last year two chicks died of poisoning in their nests.

The project operates two teams of poison bait detection dogs that patrol the Cypriot countryside, BirdLife said, adding that these teams play a crucial role in detecting and preventing poisoning incidents in the countryside, contributing to the conservation not only of the Griffon Vulture, but also of other wildlife vulnerable to poisoning, as well as the protection of companion animals such as dogs and cats.

The NGO added that thanks to the cooperation of all competent services and bodies, last December and for the first time in Cyprus a specific person was linked to the illegal placement of poisoned bait and was fined by the prosecuting authorities an extrajudicial fine of €21,000 for the offence of killing wild endangered birds with the use of poison and the offence of intentionally killing and/or capturing a protected wild bird.

“The imposition of a penalty is a major advance that could prevent similar illegal actions that have a devastating impact on Cyprus’ biodiversity,” BirdLife stressed.

“We would expect the Party for the Animals to make concrete suggestions, to concentrate its efforts on pressing for a better crackdown on the placement of poison baits, to contribute to the effort to take measures for the signalling and insulation of overhead power lines dangerous to the vulture and quite simply to support such efforts, instead of questioning them, publicly vilifying them and making unsubstantiated criticism in order to impress public opinion,” the NGO added.

BirdLife Cyprus announced in March that a batch consisting of 14 Griffon vultures had arrived on the island from Spain.

The arrival of the birds was part of the ‘Life with Vultures’ programme to prevent their extinction and strengthen their extremely diminished population on the island.

The vultures were transferred to a special acclimatisation cage of the Game Fund in the Limassol district where they were to remain for five to six months. As with the previously released vultures, the birds were fitted with transmitters to monitor their movements, as well as for early rescue intervention.

Last September, two out of eight vultures, previously donated from Spain, which had been released into the wild died days after being set free, due to their young age.

Among the known reasons for failure the party detailed shooting of birds, indirect poisoning from baits set for foxes and hounds, reduction of food availability, collisions with electric cables and wind turbines, and disturbance during the nesting season.

“Since 2011 when the reintroduction programmes started, at which at the time the total population of vultures numbered six to eight birds, 25 vultures were imported from Crete and 13 vultures were lost,” the Animal party said.

BirdLife said it was shocked by the the Animal Party’s statement. “Given all that they stand for and strive for animal welfare, leaves us stunned. Turning against those who are really trying to save a species from extinction is far from encouraging constructive dialogue and mutual support, especially since the use of poisoned baits is widespread both in the countryside and in residential areas,” BirdLife added.

The group noted that despite setbacks, it is impossible to ignore the progress made over the years, however small it may be and added that if in 2011 the population had not been boosted with Griffon vultures from Crete, the species would probably have already disappeared from Cyprus.

According to the environmental group, the possibility of extinction of the species from the island is confirmed by a recent Population Sustainability Analysis which showed that, unless measures are taken to manage and maintain the greatly reduced Griffon vulture population in Cyprus, the species will disappear within just 15 years.

“In closing, we consider it unfair to nullify years of efforts due to some isolated incidents of poisoning or setbacks. Protecting and preserving nature is a constant struggle and, while challenges may arise, it is essential to focus on the progress made and not give up. We remain committed to our work and goal to prevent the extinction of the species from the island and ensure its survival in the long term,” BirdLife Cyprus concluded.