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Endangered vulture population halved after poisonings

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The death of three endangered Griffon vultures in Paphos is “a huge blow” to the species’ population in Cyprus, as their number has halved to under ten.

Conservationists BirdLife Cyprus said that investigations indicate the birds had been poisoned.

Authorities are on alert as the island’s protected vulture population has fallen from 15-20 in 2021 to eight in 2022.

The state Game Service said an adult vulture and two chicks were found on May 3 and 4 in nests in Ayios Ioannis in Paphos.

Named Icarus, the adult bird was around 4-5 years old and had been fitted with a GPS tracker in November 2019 in Limassol.

The bird was found dead last Tuesday by members of the Game Service after an alert from the forestry department said that the bird had been exhibiting strange behaviour.

The next day, a wider search resulted in discovering two dead chicks in nests, with no signs of their parents in the area. The parents are presumed to be dead as they cannot be found.

Newborn vultures spend the first three months in their nests, depending on their parents for food.

Postmortems performed on the dead birds indicate that poisoning is the most likely cause, which is expected to be confirmed through toxicological tests.

The incidents are being investigated by the authorities to determine any foul play.

BirdLife Cyprus called for zero tolerance for the culprits, who “must be made an example of to prevent further losses to the already extremely endangered and vulnerable population of vultures on the island”.

Placing poisoned baits is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison and/or a fine of € 20,000.

If the act causes substantial damage to a protected species, the law provides a penalty of up to ten years in prison and/or a fine of €500,000.

Cyprus has been striving to rebuild the Griffon vulture population, which in recent years has not exceeded 20.

The loss of many vultures is a huge blow to efforts being made through the ‘Life with vultures’ team, carried out by the Game Service, BirdLife Cyprus, and Terra Cypria, in close collaboration with British Bases police.

The program (2019-2023) has a budget of €1.4 mln and is co-financed (60%) by the LIFE program, the EU financial instrument for protecting the environment.