There are warnings this years’ International Vulture Awareness Day, September 5, 2015, could be one of the last to see these birds in Europe. A number of conservation organisations say this is because European countries are failing to tackle the use of a dangerous drug which could cause the extinction of vultures across the continent.
Their future is grim, according to BirdLife International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society, unless the European Commission moves to ban the veterinary use of Diclofenac now.
A ban in some Asian countries, including India and Pakistan, has helped to arrest the catastrophic effects on vulture populations there. Disappointingly, EU member countries decided, following a meeting this summer, that, the drug can instead be ‘controlled’ through vague action plans. Veterinary diclofenac is still legally available in countries such as Spain, which is home to 95 per cent of Europe’s vulture population. That’s despite the European Medicines Agency earlier this year identifying the serious risk the drug poses to vultures.
Diclofenac is an anti-inflammatory used in animals such as cattle and pigs, but it is highly toxic to vultures and kills them hours after they have eaten a contaminated carcass. A safe alternative to diclofenac exists and is widely available, which would limit any adverse effects of a ban. The harmful use of this drug in livestock must be stopped immediately. It is our shared responsibility to protect vultures at a national and global level.
The Griffon Vulture (Gyps Fulvus) is the largest bird found in Cyprus. By feeding exclusively on carcasses vultures help keep the environment clean and reduce the spread of disease. The Griffon Vulture population in Cyprus declined dramatically down to 12 birds in 2010, as a result of the use of poison, poaching and lack of food.
This small population was enriched with 22 individuals from Crete within the framework of the “Cross Border Cooperation Programme Greece-Cyprus 2007-2013” programme, where BirdLife Cyprus was a partner. The last releases of the individuals from Crete took place in February this year. Although the project was successful, the Griffon Vulture population remains perilously small and so the project of introduction of birds from abroad to strengthen the Cyprus population needs to continue, according to BirdLife Cyprus.