BirdLife International has been talking in recent months about the status of Egyptian Vultures and 3 species of Vultures in Kenya, but vultures in Cyprus are having a hard time too. Although generally widespread, Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) are nearly extinct here in Cyprus.
Up until about 100 years ago, naturalists have been reporting such things as “one sees many vultures standing in the fields like flocks of sheep” (Lock, in Cobham, 1553; Lilford, 1875; Guilemard, 1888). Griffon Vultures were the more common species, although Black Vultures (Aegypius monachus) bred here too. More detailed reports surfaced in the 1900’s as well, noting the locations of breeding colonies and that they were “reasonably common.”
Starting in the 1960’s, the vultures were still numerous and flocks of 20+ could be seen feeding on dead animals in the plain to the East of the Troodos Mountains. Twenty years later, vultures had become rare, and several breeding colonies had been exterminated. Mining, hunters, and poisoning killed the vultures in droves, and many others starved as husbandry practices changed, to more quickly dispose of rotting carcasses. As of now, there are only about a dozen Griffon Vultures left in Cyprus.
This isn’t a situation that Cyprus faces alone. Vultures are extinct now in large parts of Europe, where again I understand that quick disposal of carcases of farmland animals, along with poisoned baits, are to blame.
The Game and Fauna Service of Cyprus, in an attempt to compensate for the possible shortage of available carcasses, with the cooperation of the Forestry Department and Veterinary Department was providing dead animals for the vultures. Similarly, there are a couple restaurants that discard their leftovers for the vultures to scavenge.
(Much of the above information was derived quite directly from this article, by Eleftherios Hadjisterkotis and Costas Papamichael.)
There are rumors of a plan to capture Griffon Vultures breeding in Greece and release them here in Cyprus, to rescue the population. I have no idea if this is being pursued or is simply “being discussed.”
A recent online newspaper article citing BirdLife Cyprus echoes the status of the Vulture, as well as Common Raven (Corvus corax): Griffon vultures and ravens almost extinct. It cites about a dozen Griffon Vultures left and 2-3 pairs of Ravens. The Vultures still can be seen, they still have one semi-regular roost or colony. The Ravens however, well, I’ve never seen one since arriving here in 2007. If it’s known where they nest, then that’s information that is kept under tight wraps.
Because the truth of the matter is that it’s tough being a scavenger in Cyprus. Even now, with conservation groups that didn’t exist 50 years ago and a government that is at least making a small effort to preserve it’s natural heritage, scavengers are liable to be shot or poisoned or starve.