Six bird species have stopped breeding on the island over the past seven decades, reducing the robustness of Cyprus’ ecosystems immeasurably, Birdlife Cyprus told the Cyprus Mail.
“Since 1950, we have seen the disappearance of the Black Vulture, Lesser Kestrel, Marbled Duck, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Dipper and, as recently as the 1980s, the Eastern Imperial Eagle,” the NGO said.
Although the species that have become virtually extinct in Cyprus amounts to almost one a decade, they still exist in other parts of the world, and could potentially be reintroduced to Cyprus at some time in the future.
Birdlife told the Cyprus Mail that more species “make the ecosystem resilient and robust.”
The disappearance of the species, the organisation said, “is a serious ecological problem and should raise alarm bells.”
Most of the species that have been wiped out on the island disappeared due to human intervention, the group said.
In the case of the black vulture, although measures taken to tackle wildlife poisoning resulted in a rapid recovery of the species in western Europe, populations collapsed in many eastern European countries, including Cyprus.
The few pairs that nested in big old pine trees in the forests of Troodos and Pentadaktylos disappeared in the mid 60s.
“After this bitter lesson, preventing the extinction of the Griffon Vulture, the only vulture species remaining on our island, is a bet we simply cannot afford to lose,” Birdlife said.
A project has been ongoing for some time in Cyprus to help bolster griffon vulture populations, bringing in mating pairs and birds to help create more.
“Other species are on the brink, if the pattern continues, so this is a call to action from Birdlife,” the organisation told the Cyprus Mail.
It has prioritised trying to bring back species that are on the brink of extinction, as is the case of the griffon vulture, while reintroducing other species is also a priority, as is the case with the black vulture and the Eastern imperial eagle.
The Eastern imperial eagle although a powerful predator became the prey. Poisoning, collisions with power lines, illegal killing, and the loss of important breeding and foraging areas drove the species into a downward spiral.
In Cyprus, the Eastern Imperial Eagle nested in small numbers in large pine trees in the Troodos and Pentadaktylos. The last time it was recorded breeding on the island was in 1985.
Today, the only species of eagle that breeds here, the Bonelli’s Eagle, faces the same threats.
Some of six species stopped breeding in Cyprus due to pesticide use, notably the marbled duck, the lesser kestrel, the dipper.
The dipper most probably went extinct in Cyprus in the late 40s and early 50s, due to the increased use of the pesticide DDT to fight malaria, while the marbled duck also faced demise due to the fight against malaria and due to the planting of eucalypts in wetlands.
Use of pesticides also led to the disappearance of the lesser kestrel, whose main source of food became infected with toxic chemicals from their indiscriminate use.
Lastly, the black-bellied sandgrouse seems to have gone extinct from over hunting.
Although, these species have stopped breeding Birdlife has been working to preserve others that are on the brink of disappearance, and will look to revive other lost populations.
“Our priority is to try and maintain populations that are not going extinct, like the griffon vulture”.