HELLENIC WILDLIFE HOSPITAL
Two months ago I had the opportunity (thanks to our friend Andreas Fournarakos) to visit the Hellehic Wildlife Hospital in the island of Aegina. I was really impressed by the efforts of this foundation, their love and care for those unfortunate wild animals, their effectiveness and their warm welcome. I then thought that MCH should definitely devote some pages to those people who have dedicated their lives in the healthcare of wildlife in a country whose citizens do not respect nature as much as they should. Better still, I asked them to send us the information they would like to appear here. Many thanks to all of them for being so polite to us. The photos which appear on this article are taken by MCH and are presented here without comments. We believe that sometimes a picture can say much more - in a better way. All the animals in the photos were in prime shape when we visited the plant - a remarkable job. It was a pity that I didn't take a shot of the little donkey which welcomed us there. Next time...The text which follows was submitted by them.
If man, is to continue to be a “civilized” being, he must, in our times care for the survival of animals both as individuals and as species. By now, almost nothing on earth has remained untouched by man. Our world has become inhospitable for most other creatures. Our ways of using natural resources have deprived many animals of their homes and killed off billions of others. Most of mankind’s negative impact on animal life is not even necessary for survival, as hunting used to be for our ancestors.
We have full responsibility, therefore, to preserve and care for nature in every possible way. Also, we must expand and use our knowledge to ensure its future. Wildlife Rehabilitation, coupled by observation in the wild, is one of the best means of understanding what animals are and what they need, in order to aid their survival.
A SHORT HISTORY OF WILDLIFE REHABILITATION IN GREECE
In 1984, a small group of university students in Thessaloniki undertook the first attempts to treat injured or sick wild animals. They rescued animals from the city zoo, where the public abandoned them not having anything better to do with them other than stuff them. The zoo staff could not provide any treatment at all. The animals, before the intervention of the students, often died in captivity, under atrocious conditions.
Very soon the small group joined the Hellenic Ornithological Society, a society for the protection of birds, and wildlife rehabilitation became a regular activity of the Society for several years and received much publicity for its success. The animals were treated in Thessaloniki, (Northern Greece) with little or no funding. An old factory building was transformed into a hospital and an aviary for birds of prey.
In 1990, the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital, a non profit organization, was founded by the most active rehabbers, who were mostly members of the original team, and continues to work today. The main goal of the Hospital, besides rehabilitation, is the education of the public, in a country where illegal shooting is a regular practice and a threat for the survival of many species.
Today, the hospital is based on the island of Aegina, a few miles south of Athens and geographically in the center of Greece. A large former prison building served its needs, and provided ample space for treatment until 2001. Large rooms had been transformed into aviaries where birds could exercise, recuperate and recover from fractures and stiffness.
The hospital collaborates with a network of first aid stations covering as much of the country as possible. An increasing number of volunteers help with daily care, cleaning up pens and aviaries and transporting injured animals from airports and railway stations.
The H.W.H. was the first wildlife treatment establishment to obtain permission from the Greek state to handle all wildlife species. The Forestry Stations send the center an significant percentage of the animals, but, the bulk of them are sent directly by the public.
ABOUT THE ANIMALS
More than 30.000 animals have been treated up to now, and over half of them returned to the wild, thus given a second chance to survive.
The most common species dealt with at the H.W.H. is the European Buzzard, of which 500-700 are treated every year, most of them victims of illegal shooting. Many threatened species are regularly dealt with, such as Pelicans, Storks and Herons, Imperial and Golden Eagles, Ospreys, Flamingos, Vultures etc. The most common mammal is the Red Fox (20-30 per year), followed by the Hedgehog (Wolves and Bears have also been treated).
The most common type of injury is wing fractures due to illegal shooting. Accidents also occur, mostly from collisions with cars (Mammals, many Owls) or power lines (Storks, Eagle Owls, Vultures). Birds of prey sometimes are found poisoned by baits set out (illegally) to kill off wolves and foxes. Jackals have become almost extinct due to this method and the loss of their natural lowland habitat.
All indigenous species of birds, mammals and reptiles are accepted and treated regardless of their rarity. The Hospital keeps disabled animals for educational purposes, possible reproduction and also, very often, to aid new arrivals overcome shock. Their presence (a familiar element in otherwise strange surroundings), appeaces stress and helps newly injured animals adapt during their treatment without becoming dependent on humans. This is particularly valuable for social species such as Pelicans, Swans, Flamingoes, various waders and small birds. Pelicans, for example will become very tame if they don’t have the company of other Pelicans. Flamingoes usually die when alone but thrive when kept in groups.
THE PRESENT AND FUTURE OF WILDLIFE REHABILITATION IN GREECE
In 1992 the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital was awarded the Athens Academy Award for its contribution to wildlife protection in Greece and the significant role it has played in the awareness and sensitization of the public.
By now, hundreds of young people have taken part in its activities all over the country, learning about and helping nature protection. Thousands of children have watched the release of birds of prey and hopefully will not shoot them in the future out of ignorance or prejudice.
Also, many volunteers gain an unforgettable experience on Aegina and in Athens working with the animals.
The H.W.H. also cooperates closely with several other Nature Protection Societies in Greece, in particular those who have undertaken similar rehabilitation projects but specialized in certain threatened species (Sea Turtles, Seals, Bears, etc.).
The Prefecture of Piraeus inaugurated in 1999 a European Union project to build modernized establishments to house the H.W.H and provide suitable infrastructure for public information and sensitization. The new buildings were completed in September 2002 and are now fully operational.
Unfortunately, in spite of growing public interest, funding continues to be inadequate and is a constant threat to the survival of such a Hospital in Greece. The hospital relies on membership fees and donations in order to cover the costs of medical care and feeding of 4000 animals per year as all of the Hospital’s activities are based on voluntary work.
In spite of these difficulties, the H.W.H will persist, thanks to the determination of its permanent members and volunteers.
As Greece is one of the most important areas for the conservation of wildlife diversity in Europe and also one of the most threatened, due to uncontrollable shooting and rapid habitat destruction, the importance of Wildlife Rehabilitation is manifold: to save as many animals as possible, educate the public, and collect data in order to obtain a clear picture of the threats and form an effective plan of action.