Republic of Cyprus Emblem
Department of Forests

Fauna



FAUNA OF CYPRUS
The term fauna includes all animal organisms; reptiles, amphibians, mammals, birds, insects, fish and various other microorganisms.

The natural wealth of the island’s fauna and flora, is the result of the evolution of species through time, under the influence of special climatic conditions, the proximity to three continents (Europe, Asia, Africa), the long-term isolation of the island and human impact.


The variety of landscapes with particular microclimatic and topographic features, the variety of soil and geological substrates as well as the diversity of vegetation and forestry and agriculture practices all contribute to the large variety of habitats that meet the survival requirements of many species within the animal kingdom.

Until the present day there have been 30 species of mammals, 25 species of amphibians and reptiles, 400 species of birds, 250 species of fish and about 6000 species of insects recorded in Cyprus, as shown in the table below:
Category
Species
Number of species
Total
Mouflon
1
Fox
1
Hare
1
Mammals
Hedgehog
1
Mice
6
33
Bats
19
Dolphins
3
Seal
1
Birds
Permanent resident/migratory
400
Snakes
8
Reptiles
Lizards
11
22
Turtles/ tortoises
3
Amphibians
Frogs
3
3
Fish
All fish
250
250
Insects
Butterflies
52
Around 6000






MAMMALS

From archaeological excavations it has been concluded, that during ancient times in Cyprus several species of large mammals which are not around today, such as elephants and hippos, existed. Due to the particular food and water conditions and the lack of enemies, these species evolved over time to become pygmy/dwarf versions of the species, thus adapted to the environment of the island. With the first colonisation of Cyprus by humans, 8-10 thousand years ago, these species became extinct. It is suspected that this is because of intense hunting combined with the limited size of the island, which put these animals in a very disadvantageous position. Fossils of pygmy elephants and hippos were found in coastal caves in Akrotiri and Agia Napa, as well as in many other coastal caves.

During the Neolithic and Chalcolithic ages, new species of mammals such as the Mesopotamian deer (Dama dama mesopotamica), the European deer (Dama dama), the common deer (Cervus elaphus), the weasel (Mustela nivalis), the wildcat (Felis silvestris), the fox (Vulpes vulpes), the mouflon (Ovis gmelini ophion), the hare (Lepus europaeus) and various species of mice appeared on the island.

Some of these species were introduced by the primitive man as domestic animals. Many escaped and survived in the wild, but it seems that in the end they were hunted and disappeared, resulting in very few species surviving until today.

The Mesopotamian deer (Dama dama mesopotamica), the remains of which have been found in various areas, seems to have disappeared recently, about 400 years ago, probably due to intensive hunting.

The mouflon (Ovis gmelini ophion) is a species of wild sheep endemic to Cyprus and the largest wild land mammal that exists on the island today. It is the pride and joy of Cyprus’s forests. It is thought to have been introduced to the island by new inhabitants, around 8000 BC. It was once abundant throughout the Troodos and the Pentadaktylos mountain ranges. Because of intensive hunting during the 1930s, the population decreased dramatically, leaving only a few animals in the Paphos forest. Faced with high risk of extinction, the entire Paphos State Forest was declared a prohibited area for hunting.

The fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the only carnivorous mammal in Cyprus. Despite scientific studies showing this species’ beneficial role in natural ecosystems, which resulted in its protection in other European countries, the fox is still treated with great prejudice in Cyprus.

The
hare (Lepus europeus) is the main, and largest, prey animal. There are sufficient numbers of hare found in all types of habitats, despite the strong pressure from intensive hunting.

The
hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus dorotheae) found in Cyprus is an endemic subspecies. It is a shy animal, exhibiting cryptic behaviour, and it pays a heavy death toll on the roads mainly during spring and summer. It is common in the lowlands, with its populations decreasing as altitude increases.

Bats, a remarkable feature of the Cypriot fauna, are part of one of the most peculiar mammal classifications. Cyprus hosts 19 different bat species (one belonging to the megachiroptera and 18 to the microchiroptera). Their peculiar way of life and bizarre form has caused the creation of many prejudices and superstitions. This has led man to disregard bats without knowing enough about their biology, their habits and the crucial role they play in the balance of ecosystems, and mercilessly hunt them. Bats feed primarily on insects, except from the Egyptian Fruit Bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus) which, as its name suggests, feeds on fruit.

BIRDS

The geographical position of Cyprus makes it one of the most important migratory corridors. International organisations concerned with birds place Cyprus among the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world. Within Europe, Cyprus is unique when it comes to endemic bird species.


The birds that have been recorded so far in Cyprus amount to about 400 species. Of these, 53 are permanent residents and the rest are migratory. Of the migratory birds, most are regular visitors while several are rare or very rare visitors. The number of visitors, especially in the winter, varies from year to year depending on the climatic conditions in Northern and Eastern Europe and the rainfall in Cyprus.


Of the bird species residing in Cyprus, 6 are considered endemic (2 species and 4 subspecies). These are:

    Cyprus warbler (Sylvia melanothorax)
    Cyprus wheatear (Oenanthe cypriaca)
    Short- toed treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla dorotheae)
    Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius glaszneri)
    Scops owl (Otus scops cyprius)
    Coal tit (Periparus ater cypriotes)

Migration is a survival strategy and a striking phenomenon that is repeated every year around the same period. The weather during the days of high migration activity, in both spring and autumn, is characterised by mild winds, excellent visibility and sparse clouds. This helps birds during their migration from Europe to the heart of the African continent and vice versa.


REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS

So far, 22 species of reptiles and 3 species of amphibians have been recorded in Cyprus.


Reptiles include 3 turtle species, 8 species of lizards (4 of which are endemic subspecies) and 8 species of snakes, including an endemic species and 2 endemic subspecies. Of the eight species of snakes, 3 are venomous but only one is a danger to humans.


Amphibians include three species of frogs. The
Middle East tree frog (Hyla savignyi), the Levant water frog (Pelophylax bedriagae), and the European green toad (Bufotes viridis).

There are two species of sea turtles; the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) which visit sandy beaches to lay their eggs. The third type is the freshwater turtle (Mauremis rivulata), which is threatened by the drying of wetlands and rivers. They live in streams with low water velocity and rich aquatic vegetation, particularly in areas in and around Nicosia and Polis.

Arguably, the most impressive and rare lizard is the
Schneider’s skink (Eumeces schreideri). It is a fast-moving creature, about 30-40 cm long.

The
agamid lizard (Stellagama stellio cypriaca) is a very common species that is not easily missed. It is an excellent runner and well adapted to most environments. When not running, it lies stretched out with its head held high and with the front part of its body raised on its forelegs.

The endemic
Cyprus whip snake (Hierophis cypriensis) is mostly found in the Pafos and Troodos forests, as well as in the forests of Limassol and Machairas. It has a long, thin body, about 75 cm long. This species is non-venomous and feeds mainly on lizards. It prefers shady damp places, especially near rivers and streams.

The
black whip snake (Dolichophis jugularis) is a non-venomous snake. Colored red, this is the most common snake found in Cyprus. Known and loved by most people, it is even welcome to live in our gardens, clearing it of rodents which are its main prey.

The
blunt-nosed viper (Macrovipera lebetina), is frequently found in various habitats. It is highly venomous, which is why it is attacked furiously by man whenever and wherever it is found.

The cat snake (Telescopus fallax) is a relatively rare reptile for Cyprus. The grass snake (Natrix natrix cypriaca) is the rarest snake in our country. Until 1992, it was thought to have been extinct for 30 years. Existing records show that it is found in only two areas of the island.


INSECTS

Regarding the study of the rich world of Cyprus’s insects, greater emphasis has been placed on species of economic importance to agriculture, forestry, humans and pets. According to information available, the number of species of insects is estimated to be 6000.

A prominent position is held by butterflies, the "king" of all insects, which belong to the order of Lepidoptera. Held dear to scholars and others alike, butterflies are symbols of life and beauty, associated with spring and the emergence of colourful flowers. There are 52 species of butterflies in Cyprus, 9 of which are endemic.

PROTECTING OUR FAUNA

Each species of fauna is adapted to live in a habitat and finds it difficult to survive if evicted. Each species, large or small, predator or prey, weak or strong fills its own niche, maintaining a balance in the way that it shares its natural resources, competes and cohabitates. This system allows foxes, hares, snakes, birds and insects to inhabit the same habitat while the ecosystem is maintained through balanced interactions. In nature, the killing of one species by another is a natural process that benefits both predator and prey. Strange as it sounds, predators help prevent overpopulation in habitats, hence maintaining optimum population numbers and indirectly helping the species’ survival.

Many species of fauna are rare and threatened with extinction, such as the vulture, the grass snake, the turtles etc. For this reason, they are protected by Cypriot law as well as by European directives and international conventions. Meanwhile competent state services take appropriate measures for proper management and protection.

However, it must be emphasized that without contribution from all of us, protection efforts are difficult to achieve. The physical and economic survival of the human race, which at the end of the day is a member of the animal kingdom, depends on many direct and indirect efforts of maintaining biological diversity, a main component of which is fauna. Our contribution will be more conscious and effective if we strive to study and appreciate the functions and interactions of species within their ecosystem.





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