Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Cats - a photographic expedition. By Anna Stamatiou

Communication is a vital part of our work at GAWF/Animal Action and, as we have all been told a thousand times, a picture is worth a thousand words.  So on a rather grey October afternoon I took to the streets around my home in Athens in search of the many stray cats that live in our neighbourhood.  There are so many, and I thought it would be easy to photograph some of them so that we can have some recent images to use in promoting our work. 

A few metres down my road there is a diving equipment shop.  Its owner, Ali, is a daily feeder of our neighbourhood strays so they often hang out nearby, waiting for him to appear.  I caught sight of some of his “regulars” clustered around the huge rubbish bin on the street corner, sniffing around for scraps.  Most of them took off but one stayed as it was busy licking something nasty out of a crumpled bit of aluminium foil.  As I approached, camera in hand, it glared at me and, deciding I was clearly taking an altogether unwarranted interest in its activities, slunk off to keep an eye on me from under a parked car.  I waited, but although it emerged eventually, it had rumbled me and kept its distance.  Cats 3: Anna 0

My next targets were gathered in a side street close to the new Acropolis Museum.  There was an old yogurt pot with clean water in it in a doorway and I assumed someone was feeding the three sleepy-eyed customers that didn’t seem too phased by my presence.  One jumped onto a car and even allowed me to tickle its ears but, as soon as the camera came out it scarpered and re-joined the other two, regarding me from a distance that would be enough to provide me with only the most boring of images.  Cats 6: Anna 0

I was saved from utter humiliation by the appearance of Eleni Kefalogianni and her bulging carrier bag.  Eleni lives locally and is a pillar of Nine Lives – a very active group of cat lovers, feeders and carers who, as she told me as I joined her on her feeding round, daily feed about 120 stray cats in central Athens, almost all of which the organisation has also neutered.  I felt proud that GAWF/Animal Action has from time to time been able to support them in their work – particularly in the neutering aspect of it.

 As soon as Eleni appeared, secret signals swept through the area and cats began to appear.  They honey-poured themselves over walls and parapets; tooth-pasted themselves out from under cars; Light Brigade charged full pelt up the hill; materialised out of thin air.  They all looked healthy, well fed and the majority had a snip out of one ear that said “I’m neutered”.  They queued, quarrelled, wove through railings and followed Eleni on her round.  They refused to stand still and be photographed; they refused to look into the lens.  Cats 117 (approx.): Anna about 9

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Caring for wildlife casualties in Greece – EKPAZ and ANIMA. By Anna Stamatiou, Trustee

Over the years GAWF has supported groups that concern themselves with the rescue of wildlife in Greece.  It is a small but important aspect of our mission.  Last Spring GAWF/Animal Action officially passed on a complaint we had received against the Wildlife Rescue Centre, EKPAZ, in Aegina to the Ministry of the Environment.  The confiscation of 40 tortoises from a separate, unlicensed wildlife centre in central Greece this Summer, and the flurry of accusation and counter-accusation that surrounded it, led us to look again at the broader question of what happens to sick or injured wild animals in Greece. 

Our CEO, Amalia, and I decided the time had come to get some personal experience of the Aegina centre, one of the longest established (and government-licensed) rescue centres in Greece, but one with an increasingly poor reputation.  So in July we took a day trip to see for ourselves what conditions there were really like. “Squalid” more or less sums it up, though we did have the impression that there were people there that were trying to do their best in difficult circumstances.  Long term lack of funding has meant that the place has a very run down feel.

Among the animals we saw were foxes, a wild boar, buzzards, falcons, flamingos, pelicans, pigeons, terrapins, a golden eagle, and barn owls.   The confiscated tortoises were mentioned but we did not see them.

Although neither of us is a veterinarian, we were concerned about the standards of cleanliness not only of the enclosures but also of the food and water provided.  We worried that in the summer heat many animals did not appear to have enough shade, and that some species seemed overcrowded.  It was not clear to us that the aim of the place was four-square to prepare every possible creature for reintroduction to the wild. 

What a contrast there was between that centre and the small one, ANIMA, that is situated in Kallithea – one of the southern suburbs of Athens.  Operating on a shoestring out of a ground floor space in a small apartment block, ANIMA relies on donations and volunteers and has developed a close working relationship with the highly regarded ALKYONI wildlife refuge, on the island of Paros.  Much use is made of cardboard boxes as temporary accommodation, but each was clean and fresh.  Purposeful and professional, ANIMA arranges care for all kinds of creatures, but at the time of our visit there were large numbers of birds that seem to get into trouble on their annual migrations, colliding with power lines or coming into contact with irresponsible hunters – the kind that will fire at anything that moves. 

The team has almost daily contact with a specialist veterinary practice that is highly skilled in surgeries to repair broken wings… and much more.   A high proportion of the animals passing through the centre is released back into the wild.

On the September day of our visit, ANIMA had just taken delivery of a badger from Crete, wounded in a road accident, and were most anxious to assure us that the animal would be taken back to the island for release… once it was well enough. 

We happily follow the steady stream of pictorial evidence of releases that ANIMA post on their Facebook page…  and share a series of their latest images, illustrating the release of a rehabilitated flamingo, here.

In devising GAWF/Animal Action’s strategy for ensuring the welfare of wild animals in Greece, we will continue to inform ourselves about the existing groups – their philosophical approach, capacity, and management – so that we can make the most efficient possible use of the funds that we have available.