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Spanish griffon vultures are released into the wild in Cyprus to replenish the dwindling population

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Wildlife authorities and conservationists in Cyprus on Friday released seven imported griffon vultures to the wild after implanting tracking devices in hopes of ensuring the survival of the birds that are threatened with extinction on the island nation.

A further seven vultures will be released in a week’s time. All 14 birds arrived last March and have spent several months acclimating. They were gifted to Cyprus by the autonomous community of Extremadura in Spain which hosts 90-95% of all vultures in Europe.

Cyprus Game and Fauna Service spokesman Nicos Kasinis told The Associated Press the tracking devices are necessary to observe whether the young birds are integrating well in the first, crucial weeks with the island’s 29 other griffon vultures. Officials will monitor whether they’re frequenting the same feeding and watering areas.

Griffon vultures are a resident species in Cyprus but their population has dwindled to dangerously low numbers. The local population has not been naturally replenished because the vultures, like other large bird species, avoid traveling long distances over water, Kasinis said.

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A study has indicated that the birds’ extinction in Cyprus could happen within the next 15 years, so authorities, in conjunction with the conservationist group BirdLife Cyprus, have imported a number of vultures from Spain over the past year.

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Some 15 Spanish vultures were released in Cyprus a year ago, of which 11 have managed to survive. Two of the birds died as a result of flying into electricity grid installations, one as a result of poisoning and another because of its inexperience and inability to integrate properly, according to the service.

Kasinis said the poisonings didn’t target vultures but were traps laid primarily by livestock farmers who want to ward off other predators like foxes.

Nonetheless, the Cyprus Game and Fauna Service has set up two patrol teams of sniffer dogs trained to identify poison bait in the wild. Kasinis said some of this poison, which is banned in the European Union, has found its way from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of ethnically divided Cyprus.

Other anti-poisoning measures include law enforcement training on averting wildlife poisonings and a stepped-up information campaign.

A further 15 griffon vultures will be brought over from Spain and released to the wild next year.