Monday, December 7, 2009

Hares, birds and orchids: the casualties of peace in Cyprus

 Cyprus mouflon, a sub-species of wild sheep, are now established in the abandoned villages and on the slopes of the Kyrenia mountain range. SALIH GUECEL

It's called the Green Line, but despite the name, it is a completely accidental wildlife sanctuary. The narrow strip of land that zigzags across the island of Cyprus was imposed in 1974 to separate the parties to armed conflict. As humans moved out, abandoning farms and villages, nature moved in. Thirty five years on, this no man's land has become a safe haven for some of the rarest endemic plants and animals in Europe and a place of special scientific importance. Now however there's a threat hanging over the unique eco-system, not from war, but from peace.

At its narrowest, the Green Line measures only 3.5 metres, and 7.5 km at the widest. But since Cyprus was divided in 1974, the area has seen minimal human activity, barring the occasional patrol by UN peacekeepers. The resulting surge in wildlife became evident early on, but its full scale has become apparent only since Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot scientists began working together to compile the first comprehensive inventories of plant and animal life. An absence of building development has allowed wildlife to flourish. "It means healthy populations of various species have survived without having their habitats fragmented, degraded or destroyed," explains Dr. Iris Charalambidou, a leader of the joint-North South scientific team which has been studying the area.

One of the most exciting finds are populations of two indigenous plants, the Cyprus Tulip (Tulipa cypria) and the Cyprus Bee Orchid (Ophrys kotschyi), both extremely rare. Likewise, a few decades ago, there were only a few hundred Cyprus mouflon, an endangered wild sheep found only on the island. But the Green Line has helped the sub-species to thrive to the point where Cyprus now has a healthy 3,000-strong herd. …

Hares, birds and orchids: the casualties of peace in Cyprus

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