Rehabilitation of Wild Animals in Greece – Past, Present, and Future
The Society for the Protection and Rehabilitation of Wildlife ANIMA was founded in September 2005. The founding members consisted of experienced wildlife nurses, vets, foresters, lawyers, architects etc. The Society aims to upgrade and modernise wildlife rehabilitation, successful reintroduction into their wild habitat, the promotion of management solutions for the animals protection and the actualisation of environmental training.
The history of wildlife rehabilitation in Greece is greatly connected to the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital (EKPAZ). In the 80’s EKPAZ brought to light issues such as how damaging poaching is on the survival of birds, but most importantly, it gave an injured wild animal a chance to be cared for and re-released instead of being ignored or at best put into a zoo. However a combination of lack of organisation, the enforcement of the law that prohibited individuals to keep wild animals as pets and the fact that until 1995 no other rehabilitation centres had been opened, caused EKPAZ to over-flood with animals, making it costly and dysfunctional. Even though the building housing EKPAZ (property of Piraeus Prefecture) is huge, it does not have the ability to provide quarantine or personalized treatment to every animal.
In order to gain more publicity and public understanding, mass releases of wild animals were scheduled in the presence of large crowds. Consequently the birds remained in cages for months on end after they were healed until transportation methods and funds were found. This tactic succeeded in gaining publicity and raising public awareness, but the time has come to do things differently. Here at ANIMA, a bird will not spend more than a week at the centre from the moment it is ready to be released back into the wild, unless there is an extremely serious reason.
Another thing that has changed is the profiles of the wild animals brought to the centre. Ten years ago, the majority of animals were predatory and large water birds that had been shot. Today, more animals come in due to accidents or are orphans. This shows the public’s increased awareness and knowledge of how to contact a rehabilitation centre even for a little common sparrow, not only for big endangered species. Another factor is the significant decrease in the poaching of large predatory and water birds.
The School of Veterinary Medicine of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has created a department for wild animals and an intensive care unit, ensuring that in the future more vets will be able to treat wildlife along with pets, thus making it easier for wildlife rehabilitation centres to collaborate with skilled vets. We believe that a wildlife rehabilitation centre cannot host a huge number of animals, and that there needs to be a common code when collecting data so that it is reliable and accessible to scientists and environmental protection workers.
The avian flu brought to light the lack of infrastructure needed by wildlife rehabilitation centres to deal with such epidemics. The publics panic, combined with a temporary ban of birds in public transport, resulted in a steep decline of birds brought to the centre. We partially solved this problem by collaborating with the federal gamekeepers, which consists of 600 members equipped with jeeps. Their willingness to help strengthened the belief that in some public interest issues, the collaboration with hunting organizations can benefit nature.
Finally, rehabilitation is pointless without prevention, which is achieved with the investment of as big a spectrum of society as possible. For this reason we are open to communications and collaborations, so that need our help arrive at the centre in the best conditions possible and are provided with the care they need, and so that they don’t need us in the first place!