Vulture deaths a blow to species recovery programme

29 February 2016

The terrible news of six Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus being found dead over the last few weeks, in the Paramali area of Limassol, dealt a serious blow to efforts to save our most threatened breeding bird of prey. BirdLife Cyprus recently also learnt of a November 2015 vulture death in the same area, bringing the death count to seven in under four months.

The cause of death has not yet been established, although all indications point to poisoning, and the birds have been sent for post-mortem examinations. BirdLife Cyprus is committed to working with authorities to combat the use of poisons and to continuing the effort to save the Griffon Vulture in Cyprus. Dwindling vulture numbers were given a big boost through the release of rescued Vultures from Crete under the 2011-2014 GYPAS project, funded through the Cross-border cooperation programme of Cyprus-Greece, but the seven recent deaths through suspected poisoning pose a major threat to this effort.

The absence of breeding evidence at the traditional Zapalo (Kensington) cliffs this winter is further cause for concern. Some early indications of breeding in Tunnel Beach were not confirmed. The cliffs were watched during the winter 2015/16 vulture census, which took place on 28 January 2016. The census resulted in a current population estimate of 23-28 birds, identical to the result of the Spring 2015 census (even though at the time there were three active nests in the Zapalo area and all the marked birds that have been found dead in the meantime, were alive). Some 15 observers took part in the January 2016 census, covering look-out points spread across the birds’ feeding range and known breeding and roosting cliffs. At the same time, the vulture feeding station at Limnatis was covered by a camera set up by the Game & Fauna Service.

In the early part of the census day, 11 Vultures were seen at Zapalo, 5 at Ay.Yiannis at the top of Xeros valley, 8-9 around Dora village, at the top of the Diarizos valley, and 3 in the Oreites area. During the middle part of the day, 8-9 Vultures were seen at Zapalo and 15 in the area of the Limnatis feeding station. The afternoon saw 4 Vultures moving East from the Oreites area, while a maximum of 13 Vultures were moving in the Dora area and 5 were around the feeding station at Ay.Yiannis. Limnatis was quiet during this period, while a maximum of 5 Vultures were seen in the air at Zapalo, with 2-3 more birds sitting on the cliffs.

An interesting aside from the January 2016 survey was evidence of at least one very ‘speedy’ vulture. The vulture with wing tag CAJ was photographed at Zapalo at 11:07, only a matter of minutes after it was seen in a flock above Dora from Mousere look-out point some 17 km away, demonstrating just how swiftly these birds can glide between locations.

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