Even though vultures were once a common sight in Cyprus, currently they are threatened with extinction with only 22 birds remaining on the island. Most of them are vultures that have been recently imported from Spain to strengthen the extremely diminished Cypriot population.
This was once again stressed by the group “LIFE with Vultures,” which is co-funded by the European Union.
Even though in the 50s, the population numbered several hundred birds with at least 15 colonies in various locations, currently, only nine vultures remain in Cyprus.
So, within the framework of the “LIFE with Vultures” program, the population will be strengthened with the import of 30 vultures from Spain. The first Spanish vultures have been released a few months ago while another 15 will be transferred to Cyprus in the coming months.
Speaking to Phileleftheros, coordinator of the program Melpo Apostolidou explained that the reasons behind the decrease in the number of vultures in Cyprus are many and complex, with poisoning being the number one threat. Poison baits are mostly used to control predators, protect game areas, and harvest as well as a means to prevent hunting from certain areas.
Vultures, although not the target, are the most susceptible to falling victim to poisoning due to their obligate scavenging and social feeding behavior which means that large numbers can be poisoned at a single laced carcass.
Another reason for the population decline is food shortage due to changes in the grazing system (less free-range grazing), and changes in carcass disposal (livestock breeders are obliged to take livestock carcasses to specifically designed processing plants for disposal.
Disturbance to breeding colonies, habitat loss, and collisions with electricity wires are also factors that negatively affect the population’s survival.
The program “LIFE with Vultures” that began in October 2019 is working at various levels to face these threats, mainly aiming to prevent Cyprus’s most threatened bird of prey from going extinct, the program’s coordinator stressed.