Report on Xyliatos and Paralimni Lake, 2005
Report on the situation regarding the Cyprus Grass Snake (Natrix natrix cypriaca) at the Xyliatou dam and the Paralimni Lake in 2005
By Hans- Jorg Wiedl
The Xyliatou Dam was built in 1980-82 to provide farming irrigation. In 1992 I discovered a grass snake population at the plant in spite of repeated reports by the Cyprus Government’s Fishery department that this snake is al most certainly extinct. Firstly because the British had sprayed DDT in the water in order to rid it of mosquito larvae, secondly due to the drying up of the streams cauaed by the irrigation of the fields. The third reason for the disappearance of the snake was said to be the building of the dams.
As soon as word got round among professionals that this species was probably extinct, I reported this to Professor Dr. Böhme in Bonn. But simultaneously I vas able to prove for the first time the existence of two colour mutations in that same area (Xyliatou). Prof. Dr. Böhme arrived in Cyprus in order to deliver a Iecture in Nicosia on the reptile fauna of Europe with emphasis on the Cyprus reptiles. On this occasion the three different colour variations of the Cyprus Grass Snake were demonstrated as well.
The Head of the Fishery department was informed of the importance of doing everything possible to save this population of Cyprus Grass Snakes from extinction. The greatest danger for it was the ongoing breeding of trout, which is not native to Cyprus, for financial purpose: the trout is s natural enemy of the Cyprus grass snake, which was confirmed by Prof. Böhme.
In 1945 the trout was introduced to the streams of the Troodos Mountain by the British in order to start up the fishing sport. A lot of money was spent by the Fishery department to advertise this hobby and make it known to the public. In huge numbers people started frequenting the Xyliatou dam, which is situated only 45 km from Nicosia. Thus it would be impossible to prohibit the fishing in the dam, which had quickly become a much loved sport.
Sad to say, this was stated by the very person in charge with the protection of the Cyprus Grass Snake!
Prof. Dr. Böhme as well as I myself in my function as Chairman of the Cyprus Herpetological Society assured the Fishery department of our full cooperation and support. Unfortunately there was no more contact on the matter, so the fishing at the dam went on unprohibited. And, as in Cyprus only a dead snake is a good snake, every single grass snake that came within sight was immediately killed by the fishermen. To add to the trouble the young grass snakes were eaten by the trouts! Whereas the Fishery department maintained that the fish were endangered by the snakes and not vice versa: Consequently they insisted that the trout vas in need of protection and not the Cyprus Grass Snake!
Thus, because of the trout the population of grass snakes was severely threatened. Furthermore the biotop in the area was distroyed by the intense use of tracks and passages by the fishermen. The banks around the dam are very steep in some areas and covered with loose stones that start rolling when people are passing. Ever so often I would spot snakes trying in vain to hide among those sliding stones – a very sad sight and much similar to a minor avalanche.
The natural algae in the dam were a problem for the fishermen, who complained that their fish hooks got stuck amongst them. But these algae are important for amphibians and reptiles, because they provide protection and are also home to insects and mussels for them to feed on. With the passing of the years this carpet of algae became ever thinner until it disappeared completely.
In the years 1996 to 2001 there was an extreme lack of water in Cyprus. very little snow in the Troodos Mountain and hardly any rainfall, so that the dam in Xyliatou in those five years never filled up. But this was, in my opinion, not the only fact that caused the disappearence of the algae. Most likely some kind of chemical had been spread to destroy them for the comfort of the fishermen!
Throughout all those years the Cyprus Grass Snake had been gradually disappearing, a fact that I have been discussing again and again with many scientists, students and professionals of all kinds, always pleading to everyone to help support and save the Cqprus grass snake from extinction: the Government of Cyprus must inform the public on this issue. I have also appeared in several television interviews emphasising this topic.
In 1995 a German herpetologist arrived in Cyprus to do her doctor’s degree on the Cyprus grass snake. In 1997 she had finished her work, in which she maintained that the population of snakes at the Xyliatou dam consisted of 5-600 snakes. Although she was we11 aware of all the above mentioned threats to them, she did not see any reason to explain to the Government of Cyprus that only if the breeding of trout and other fish were braught to an end, the Cyprus Grass Snake could be saved from extinction.
After the Fishery department had received several letters from scientists stating the uttermost threatening situation for the Cyprus Grass Snake, Birgit Blosat was invited to make a study on the issue and to give advice on what action to be taken to improve things. Her suggestion was to erect pools in the dam area. Accordingly, five pools measuring 10 x 10 m and 1,5 m deep were constructed some 50 m above the dam to which frogs were to be introduced to attract the snakes. But there is no vegetation to protect the animals and the distance to the fishermens’ track is merely two meters. Close to the pools there are fireplaces most probably used by the fishermen. Though fishing is prohibited round the clock, this does not seem to bother neither the authorities or the fishermen!
This state of affairs cannot be denied because there is enough photographic evidence at hand. Presumably the authorities are choosing to be tolerant in order to avoid possible acts of revenge (like arson) by frustrated fishermen! As for the snakes, there have been reports of fishermen firing their guns at them.
After two years these pools are completely dead without any sign of life or vegetation. The chances of survival for the Cyprus Grass Snake in thia environment do not look very hopeful…
In 2000 a well-known journalist wrote in the daily “Cyprus Mail” about the rediscovery of the Cyprus grass snake
- only to see it disappear again, this time for ever.
The cost paid by the Fishery department for the pools is said to have been 40.000 Euro.
The authorities of Cyprus cannot possibly maintain not having been informed.
The Paralimni Lake
Contrary to the Xyliatou dam this lake has got its natural springs. The Tamarisk is growing in abundance around it which is necessary for the survival of the Cyprus Grass Snake. This is where I found the second habitat of the Cyprus Grass Snake in 1995. There are no fish in this lake and lots of so called hunters in its neighbourhood. In the winter months, Nov.-March, it is generally filled with water, in the summer almost completely dried out. Its water is used for irrigation which is reducing it.
Close to the lake there is a moto-cross center. To keep the area dry, a deep ditch has been made all around it. The place has been used for disposal of tons o£ rubbish. But this year the authorities of Paralimni have cleared it because of the many complaints. But this does not stop people from again disposing of their garbage in the middle of nature! The so called hunters feel free to hunt because no signs have been put up to stop them! My suggestions to improve the situation were always ignored, because Birgit Blosat had been assuring that the Cyprus grass snake was not endangered!
This is what is happening in a country being a full member of the EU since 2004!
The means to prevent this tragical situation is:
firstly: the breeding of the Cyprus grass snake in captivity to be set out later on
secondly: the restoration of this natural biotome to its original state
thirdly: information to the locals about this harmless and useful snake.
In my Park ten young Cyprus grass snakes were born in 2003 and nine in 2004. This is a meaningful task only if THERE IS A NATURAL AND PROTECTED BIOTOME FOR THEM TO PROCEED TO IN DUE COURSE.
I have now been working thirteen full years doing everything in my power to persuade scientists and authorities on this matter. I do hope that this work has not been in vain and that, by the end of the day, we shall manage to save the Cyprus Grass Snake.
Snake George, 2005
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