The Greek economic crisis and the influx of refugees to the island’s dominate the news. But in the midst of this international attention and flurry, one Greek man continues to work quietly and doggedly rescuing the voiceless.
The HELLENIC WILDLIFE HOSPITAL
I was nudged persistently in the groin by a very tall goat who peered at me intensely with those strange-looking, horizontal pupils. He seemed to be protecting his lame donkey friend who I was attempting to pet after giving the goat some attention. I could tell they were friends because they hung out together, freely roaming the grounds of the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital on the island of Aegina.
A greying, bearded Greek man called to me from the open office where t-shirts and handicrafts for sale sat among large bags of animal food. He was wearing rubber boots in the Aegean summer heat; his t-shirt and shorts smudged with dirt. Maybe because the goat had nudged him too.
Yannis Poulopoulos is the founder and head of this organization, now in its 33rd year. It was the first wildlife hospital and rehabilitation centre in the entire eastern Mediterranean and Balkans, and operates on a non-profit basis dependent on two acres allocated by The Holy Monastery of Panagia Chrysoleontissa.
For the nominal donation of one euro, this multi-lingual biologist led myself and another couple to a pen that was home to a 600 pound wild boar beside another that was home to a fox: “This is Obelisk and Asterisk” he introduced. “When Obelisk gets let out of his pen in the evening, the cats like to rub against his rough coat. The little cats aren’t scared of him, but some people are.” He then told us the story of Obelisk’s rescue from the illegal wildlife trade. The connection between them was obvious as Obelisk snorted and poked his nose out at the approach of his human friend. Yannis then spoke passionately in defence of foxes and frustration at man’s lack of intelligence in dealing with them rationally or understanding the benefit they bring.
Each year nearly 4500 injured and rescued animals are sent here from all over Greece, many of which are endangered species. Those that can be treated and rehabilitated to the point that they can survive in the wild successfully are released at the right time and place, and those that can’t spend the rest of their lives at the shelter.
We walked through large cages of injured birds, some who had been shot for ”fun”. He stopped and stared up at an Imperial Eagle and the Eagle stared down in that piercing, Eagle sort of way.
A stork in flight caught my eye. She was softly approaching her young ones in a nest on the top of one of the pens. “Those are some of the birds that were released but keep coming back, so now they stay.”
To help the Wildlife Hospital:
The hospital depends on voluntarism for its function and relies mostly on its own financing and donations to cover the needs for food, medicines, dietary supplements, cages, and consumables. Volunteers work on site to help in the preparation of food, and cleaning and repairing cages and shelters while volunteers based in Athens help in the work of transportation of the wild animals and participation in environmental events.
Volunteers pay a nominal fee to cover their board and room and should be aware that the location is not near any public transportation route or village but it is an opportunity to learn and to help. And there is a lame donkey and his protective friend who will no doubt appreciate it.
To make a donation or learn more, contact the Hellenic Wildlife hospital.