A griffon, or griffin, or gryphon, depending on the spelling you choose, is a striking mythological beast. They are usually depicted as a sort of cross between a lion and an eagle. Often, they boast the sharp beak and powerful wings of an eagle along with the limbs, claws, and tail of a lion. Legends of this fearsome animal date back to ancient times and have inspired the human imagination for millennia. While there is no such thing as a griffon, its legend endures in its real-life namesake, the Griffon Vulture.
Griffon Vultures are Old World vultures found in sections of Mediterranean Europe, in Asia, and in parts of North Africa. They are often referred to simply as the “Eurasian Griffon.” It isn’t hard to see why. The Griffon Vulture is visually impressive, with an enormous wingspan that can reach lengths of over nine feet.
These fierce-looking birds mate for life and feed on carrion, which they can spot from incredible distances. This fascinating bird is, fortunately, relatively common. It is Europe’s most common vulture and is considered to be of “least concern” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In Western Europe, in fact, the Griffon Vulture’s substantial population has risen in recent years.
Despite enjoying relative stability in the Western stretches of its range, the Griffon Vulture has faced a steep and dangerous decline in Cyprus. There, the current numbers of Griffon Vultures have sunk to just 29 birds. Without intervention, it is estimated that Griffon Vultures could disappear from Cyprus entirely within the next 15 years. Fortunately, other regions with abundant Griffon Vultures are assisting in the restoration of Cyprus’s population.
A year ago, 15 Griffon Vultures from Spain, the country with the largest population of these raptors, were released in Cyprus. Of those 15, four died and 11 survived. Now, a further seven Spanish Griffon Vultures have been released in Cyprus with tracking devices to help conservationists monitor their progress. Within a week of the initial release, an additional seven birds are planned for release, totaling 14 new vultures introduced to the island.
Cyprus’s Griffon Vulture population is delicate, but the fact that these birds are common elsewhere is a distinct advantage that allows for the release of birds from other populations to supplement Cyprus’s own. What remains to be seen is whether the island is capable of sustaining these new introductions and, hopefully, producing further generations so that this tiny population can grow.
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