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A visit to the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital
(EKPAZ - ΕΚΠΑΖ - Ελληνικό Κέντρο Περίθαλπψης ‘Αγριων Ζωών)
Text by Souzana Raphael
I first visited this amazing wildlife center a full 4 ½ years after living on Aegina, though I had long wanted to visit, having heard about the amazing work being done there. One main reason for the long delay was lack of a vehicle, for there is no public transport to this place, just as there is none to the much-visited village of Pachia Rachi only a kilometre from it. A couple visiting the island from Scotland had agreed to take me on an excursion via rented car to some of the older villages that ring Mount Oros, and we found ourselves right next to the centre, so we parked, opened the big sliding gate and walked down the long drive to the main buildings, spotting some wild storks on the way, which were flying over large fenced enclosures below the buildings.
A very wild locale - this little valley with low hills rimming it - the sea shining in the autumn sunshine beyond them. Soon a friendly, bearded man named Giannis appeared, and took us on a tour of the enclosures below, an orange kitten following us on the dirt path as we walked and talked. He spoke in English, and I noticed that he seemed very much at ease in the language. We saw only birds at first, flying or roosting within large areas fenced with chicken wire, the ground covered with long grasses, with boxes here and there for sheltering. I soon learned that these birds were all raptors - various kinds of eagles, vultures, buzzards, and then there were also some barn owls with brilliant yellow eyes. Giannis rattled off names and facts about them all to my Scottish friends, who knew much more about birds and wildlife than me.
I was much impressed with the size and relative wildness of the enclosures. Giannis explained that many of the birds had been shot and injured by hunters, and showed us one whose wing had been damaged in such a way that it would never again tolerate the heavy winds that it had been so well adapted for. Another large bird in the same enclosure also had both an injured wing and had lost one eye as well (also shot). Although I had heard before that most of the birds sent to the centre were injured by hunters, seeing these two mighty creatures before me and learning that they would not be among the lucky ones to be healed and released again into the wild, the reality really sank in.
"Target practice," it's called. It is not enough that these magnificent birds are maimed by obstacles such as power lines or other human devices, or that some are poisoned from eating rats who have eaten rat poison containing Warfarin (a blood-thinning drug (not drugs) that cause death by slow hemorrhage - the rat poison placed near houses to repel rodents), or that birds are poisoned by eating crops sprayed with herbicides. All this is not enough! In addition there is the awful fact that boys and men with high-powered, long-sighted guns find their amusement in shooting at whatever moves, and the larger the bird, the easier the target. That bones evolved for long-distance flight at high altitudes, in all kinds of weather, are shattered, eyes taken out, organs ruptured … this is obviously of no consequence to such "sportsmen". That night, I lay in bed and imagined myself one of those birds stopped in flight by the sudden horror of a bullet (or several) and the long drop to earth, immediate death more kind than the slow and painful death surely suffered by so many birds that we humans never hear about.
These few survivors - the ones that end their lives at the center, and the ones released again after healing, these are surely the small minority. Giannis told us of one bird that had been shot, healed at the center, ringed upon release, and then turned up again (identified by the ring). It had been shot a second time, and this time - it died.
Giannis stopped by a large enclosure to show us his wild boar—a huge happy hulk lying on the muddy ground inside its compound. This massive creature had been raised by someone as a pet, but then - the pet got very BIG!!! Giannis told us that when he lets it out for a stroll, it usually goes back into its yard, quite happy to spend its time snoozing there. Next to the boar's "house" were some foxes, and then there were small turtles in a little pond created for them, and then a fenced yard full of pelicans stalking around, and near it, another enclosure with swans. We spotted a wild stork atop a nearby hill and were told that it had been frequenting the centre for some time, attracted no doubt by the birds housed there.
Our visit ended with a visit to the infirmary in one of the buildings up above, where sick or injured animals are tended by visiting veterinarians. There were two foxes, a ferret, small and large raptors, a hedgehog, turtles - all in cages of varying sizes, and even an Egyptian crocodile almost a metre in length, lying in a pool of water inside an enclosure, awaiting relocation. It had been found in Crete, in the city of Iraklio, having escaped from someone's home, where it had been raised as a pet! There was also a room with large enclosures for more pelicans and other birds, the floors on which they walked covered with cardboard.
I asked why there was no vegetation or some kind of debris offered them to make their temporary homes more interesting, but Giannis told me that their food would be quickly buried and lost in such matter. I also asked what people could do to help besides volunteering time working at the centre.
Are there things people can give the center besides money and help?
I asked him, and then wrote down the following list of items:
Sheets of cardboard
Large cardboard boxes
Cages/ large bins of any kind
Newspapers and magazines
Grid-like sections such as grills
Refrigerator shelves with long ribs
(These two last items serve as tops for very large cardboard boxes in which some smaller birds that are sick are kept so that they are not disturbed by the comings and goings of center personnel and vets).
Sacking (including burlap)
Clay bowls/bowls in general
Chicken and rabbit wire
Tools, including wood-working tools
Blankets and old clothing (for animals to sleep in)
Fruit/vegetable scraps or damaged fruit/veges (NOT MOLDY)
Old/ stale bread (NOT MOLDY) (Rodents sharpen teeth on hardened bread)
Of the HELP needed, Giannis emphasized the need for help in cleaning the building, and I could see (and smell) this need!
The Hospital has pressing need for veterinary products, such as vet flex or vet wrap bandages, or bandages of similar type (e.g. 3M), antiseptic gauzes, syringes, Betadine, Hibitane, pure alcohol, konakion, Tobrex (drops and salve), Pulvo, Xylocaine, Sporanox (capsules), Neurobion (ampules), Zylapour, Terramycin (powder and spey), Valaneq, Baycox, Spartrix, Panacur, Baytril 5% (injectable and syrup), Drontal plus, Dexamethasone (injectable), serum (Lactated Ringers, Dextrose), sticking plaster, anti-allergic compresses etc.
People wishing to donate items might want to phone first and make sure that any items not on the list above are wanted and to arrange a time convenient with the team there for delivery of items.
Look at the right of this page to find more information on the centre and for phone and bank information (money is always needed!!).