When the first Cretan Griffon Vultures brought to Cyprus are set free by the end of the year, they will have access to quality carcasses in the first of two ‘vulture restaurants.’
According to senior Wild Life Conservation Officer Andreas Lyssandrou, a specially-fenced off area around the large cages in Limnatis, where some of the vultures are currently being held, has been created for the purpose.
The area was fenced-off to create what he called a ‘vulture restaurant,’ to protect good quality carcasses left out for the vultures once they are released.
“The vultures are already being fed various carcasses which the Veterinary Services has deemed suitable. These are the bodies of animals that have died from an injury, for example, and not from an infectious disease,” he told The Cyprus Daily.
The birds are being kept in cages to allow them to better acclimatise to Cyprus and to lessen the likelihood of them flying back to Crete when freed.
The carcasses will be left in the fenced-off area once the first group of vultures will be released “so that stray dogs or foxes will not be able to drag the meat elsewhere and so that we can properly dispose of unwanted carcasses”.
A second ‘vulture restaurant,’ will be created near Sotira in the Limassol district, following a recent decision. “We are hoping to get a piece of land we think is suitable by the end of the year.”
Lyssandrou believes the main reason the Griffon Vulture population had dwindled to currently just 12 in the wild—and the 15 imported from Crete and due for gradual release—was because the birds no longer had access to enough food.
“In past years, shepherds for example would dispose of their dead animals in ravines and rivers but now there is a series of directives prohibiting this,” he said.
Efforts to increase or at least maintain Griffin Vulture numbers would continue with another 15 vultures brought in from Crete in stages over the coming years “depending on how many Crete is able to provide us”.
“I would like to clarify that the vultures in the cages were not captured from the wild here in Cyprus, they are all from Crete,” he said.
The first seven vultures arrived in Cyprus in June last year and have been getting used to their new home in holding cages in the Limassol district area of Limnatis.
Another five vultures arrived in December last year and are being kept in the specially-created holding cages in the Paphos district area of Ayios Yiannis.
The last four Griffon Vultures came to Cyprus at the start of this year and joined the Limnatis birds.
With the first group of vultures, brought to Cyprus since summer last year, is released, they will be fitted with a tracking device so that the Game and Wildlife Service can keep track of them. Authorities are still waiting to receive the specialised devices.
The vultures are being brought to Cyprus as part of a partly-EU funded project. The efforts are 80% funded by the EU with the remainder covered by Greece’s and Cyprus’ National Game Funds.
Griffon Vultures belong to the Old World vulture’s variety. This puts them in the Accipitridae family of birds, which also includes eagles, buzzards, kites, and hawks.
Like other vultures, the Griffon Vulture is a scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals which it finds by soaring over open areas. The birds often move in flocks and attempt to establish nesting colonies in cliffs that are undisturbed by humans and have easy access to open areas.
The maximum lifespan recorded for the Griffon Vulture is 41.4 years, for a specimen in captivity.
They are typically 93cm–1.22m long with a 2.3–2.8m wingspan. Males usually weigh between 6.2kg to 10.5kg and females typically more at between 6.5kg and 11.3kg.
Hatched naked, it is a typical Old World Vulture in appearance, with a very white head, very broad wings and short tail feathers. It has a white neck ruff and yellow bill. The Griffon Vulture’s off-white body and wing coverts contrast with the dark flight feathers.