In 2011, BirdLife Cyprus began a programme of regular monitoring of the small population of wild Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus
that remains in Cyprus. This species was formerly quite common in the country, nesting at inland and sea cliff sites throughout the island, but in recent years the population was decimated, principally by the deliberate use of poisoned baits and the intensification of farming and subsequent lack of food, so that by 2012 only 10 vultures remained in the wild, with nesting taking place only on the sea cliffs at Zapalo on the south coast.
The regular counts each year take place on one day in spring (when the birds are nesting) and one in late autumn (after the young have fledged). A network of observers is stationed at key viewpoints throughout the southwest of the island, and all vultures seen are counted, with observations timed so that movements between observation stations can be tracked. This method provides good enough coverage for the results to qualify as a true census (all individuals in the island are counted). The objective is mainly to detect the number of nests and the number of young fledged each year, and any losses of birds from the population.
This programme complements the Gypas Project
, which took place from September 2011 until January 2014 and aimed to reinforce the Cyprus Griffon Vulture population with birds introduced from Crete and acclimatized at the captive facilities at Vretsia and at Limnatis. The Gypas Project also attempted to tackle what are considered to be the main current threats to wild vultures in Cyprus: poisoning and the lack of food.
Work on vulture conservation in Cyprus needs to continue. The Gypas Project gave a highly necessary push and was the first step in the conservation effort, however the Cyprus authorities now need to find resources in order to continue, because 25 vultures are not enough to build a healthy local population nor should the awareness raising efforts cease. BirdLife Cyprus will continue advocating for this need.