Kvarner newsletter / no 13

Eco-Centre Caput Insulae Beli, island of Cres
Where man and nature live in harmony

The island of Cres is a particularly interesting destination for all devotees of eco-tourism, especially those interested in the mysterious world of Eurasian griffon vultures. The island's Eco-Centre Caput Insulae Beli takes care of these birds, providing shelter for the ones endangered, making sure they can return safely to the wild after they recover. This shelter for griffon vultures, a kind of bird hospital, is now being extended, which will facilitate the birds' recovery, ease the workload of the Croatian experts and volunteers from all over the world, and make this island centre even more interesting to nature lovers.

The Caput Insulae Eco Centre in Beli on the island of Cres was established 16 years ago with the aim of protecting Eurasian griffon vultures, an endangered bird species, but also with the intention to preserve the island's natural and cultural-historical heritage in general. In 1996, the Eco Centre got its first "griffon hospital", which so far provided shelter for more than hundred griffons from Croatia and other countries. Eurasian griffon vultures are continuously exposed to threats: young ones often fall into the sea when disturbed by tourist curiously peeking into their nests. Hunters also represent a threat to the griffons. After a griffon is cured, experts in the Eco Centre prepare them to return to nature. However, several griffons, due to the nature of their wounds, will permanently stay in the Centre, which will become their new home.
The "bird hospital", now more than a decade old, will soon be extended and include a cliff for griffons' nesting, a platform for setting the griffons free, a food refrigerator, and several quarantines for intensive care of the griffons. Visitors to the Eco Centre will also profit from this extension: a new presentation hall shall be built and host an exhibition about griffons.
Eurasian griffon vultures that inhabit the islands of Cres, Krk, Plavnik and Prvić nest on vertical cliffs just above the sea surface. The griffons are the largest flying birds with a wingspan of up to 2.80 metres and weight up to 15 kilograms. Griffon vultures can live up to 60 years, and females lay only one egg a year, on which both parents sit on alternatively during the next two months. Young griffons stay in the nest for about 4 months before they start searching food on their own. However, the relationship with their parents is not broken at that point, because they continue to teach them how to fly for the next two months. Griffon vultures feed exclusively on dead animals and do not attack living pray. They nest in rather large colonies and also search for food in groups. Since they feed on dead animals, mainly sheep, they have ever more difficulties finding food because of the reduced number of inhabitants and consequently less extensive sheep breeding on the island. For this reason, two feeding places were established on the island of Cres – the "griffon restaurants".    

The Eco Centre is visited each year by about 15,000 visitors – and their number continues to grow. Also attractive for the visitors is the Tramuntana area in the northern part of the island with seven educational trails, labyrinths aimed at becoming a deeper insight into the correlation between nature and the spirit, and one old house in the village of Frantini that displays how people used to live here. Visitors interested in eco-tourism are invited to take part in various programmes and projects aimed at connecting tradition and tourism. The Cres Eco Centre is the winner of the international Fodor's Choice award for the Tramuntana eco-tourism offer, which according to this renowned travel guide is one of the finest in the world.