Monday, 8 December 2014

Strictly no dancing, by Anna Stamatiou

Last month, quietly, on a wooded hillside in northern Greece, an American black bear died.  Giorgos was found lying lifeless in his enclosure at the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre run by the NGO, Arcturos.    He was the only resident of his species at the centre, which specialises in wolves and bears, having been confiscated in 1991 from his previous owner who had been using him as a dancing bear.  Before that he had been a circus animal.  Because of his history of long contact with humans it was never going to be possible to release him into the wild – and there is no naturally occurring population of black bears in northern Greece.  However, he lived happily at the centre, where over 20 years his health improved and he was able to form a close bond with Tasoula, a brown bear.  Giorgos took to digging out a den large enough for both of them each Winter, and they would hibernate together. 

This one bear’s story is emblematic of the success of the organisations that campaigned long and hard to end the suffering of performing bears and outlaw their use in travelling circuses and shows in Greece.  Arcturos was originally set up to achieve this objective and GAWF/Animal Action also played a very active role, extending the ban to all animals.  Giorgos could be confiscated because attitudes to dancing bears and holding wild animals in captivity have changed so much in Greece – and elsewhere – and laws have gradually been revised to reflect this.  In 2012 Greece became the first country in the EU to ban all animal performances.

Giorgos found dignity and companionship at the rescue centre, where his uniqueness, his glossy coat and quiet demeanour made him popular with visitors.  Staff reported that he was gentle but also stubborn.  After his pretty rocky start in life I guess no one much begrudged his occasionally behaving like… a bit of a bear.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Shooting down the cultural ambitions of Syros - by Anna Stamatiou

Malta is an island with an inglorious reputation when it comes to migrating birds.  The Maltese seem to consider it a sign of manhood to go out and try to hit anything that moves when the shooting season opens in the Autumn.  Sadly, the same thing happens on many a Greek island – and no doubt all over the mainland too.  Migrating birds are trapped using very fine nets or perches covered in a sticky substance.  This is illegal but in a country facing financial ruin policing hunting takes a low priority.

This x-ray shows the carcass of a hawk, peppered with lead pellets.  It was found on Syros, along with another, badly decomposed one of an eagle that also showed signs of having been shot.  It does seem particularly strange that on an island that harbours the ambition of becoming European Capital of Culture people are still taking rare birds out of the wild without apparently seeing any contradiction between that behaviour and their cultural aspirations.  How long before the hunters of Syros begin to realise that respect for the natural world must be part of any valid understanding of what we mean when we say that a place or a society is “cultured”

Monday, 3 November 2014

Beach wars - let the dogs swim. By Anna Stamatiou (GAWF Trustee)

The ink is not yet dry on the Articles of Incorporation of one of the newest animal welfare groups to be formed in Greece and already there are sulphurous fumes of controversy and disagreement on the air.  The little island of Kasos – one of the most far flung in Greece, just off the northeast tip of Crete – has distinguished itself in managing to find more than 21 people that are willing to sign up as founder members of a legally constituted not-for- profit body.  (Hooray)! 

A few dedicated people have been struggling to get this done for years and now that they are on the brink of success they find themselves having to deal with an issue that has got local blood boiling.  And it’s all because a letter from the Ministry has been received by the Harbourmaster.  A decision has been made at the highest level and more must follow… dogs are officially to be allowed to swim in the sea!!!  Yes.  And harbourmasters across the land have been told they must produce a list of beaches from which such bathing is to be permitted.  So they have written to their local welfare groups to ask which ones should be included.  And there’s the rub.  No one can agree which those beaches should be.  The poor little group is besieged.  On one side there are those that are delighted and on the other those that have sworn to resist the outrage with every fibre of their being.  What to do? 

No doubt the same scenes are being repeated throughout Greece and I really hope people will not let their emotions cloud their judgement and sense of proportion.  But we are talking about Greeks.   Frankly, there’s no hope.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Horses, donkeys and mules: The "forgotten heroes" of the Greek army and their contribution to the great battles By Amalia Sotirhou

"In a ditch, covered with snow, Psaris (the name of the mule) got stuck. Hungry, soaked to the bone, battered by the relentless running and climbing, he was doomed to be left there. I caressed his neck and kissed him. Then I moved on. Just after a few steps I turned to see him for the last time. Maybe it was an animal, but it was a companion in war. Together, we had witnessed death so many times, spent days and nights never to be forgotten in a lifetime. I saw him staring at me as I was leaving. Oh that look in his eyes... So much sorrow revealed. I started crying. But war leaves no time for such weakness. For a moment I thought I should put an end to his life but my heart would not let met. I left him there. He kept looking at me up until the moment I disappeared in the mountain…"

The soldiers’ testimony in the Greek-Italian in 1940, is depicted in a tribute to the Greek Army equines written by the Director of the Third Veterinary Hospital and General Chief veterinary surgeon, Colonel Konstantinos Terpsidis. They are righteously named the “Neglected heroes”. This tribute, is perhaps the most irrefutable evidence of the valuable contribution of horses, mules and donkeys in wartimes of the Greek Army.

Colonel Konstantinos Terpsidis continues in his book by stating that, "the history of equines (horses, mules, donkeys) is closely linked to the history of man since, with them man crossed vast plains, crossed rugged and inaccessible mountains and found a suitable place to settle. In all military conflicts of our nation, the equines were a key element of our military machine, with the cavalry as a fighter weapon characterized by speed and agility and mules as troops. They fell by the thousands and they glorified the Greek Army on the holy battlefields.

From ancient times the way equines were in battle was a relevant factor to the outcome of the battle. The military use of the horse, tied to a chariot was a sample of social superiority, while the cavalry in Greece developed under specific territorial and socioeconomic conditions, particularly in the regions of Thessaly, Macedonia and cities of Asia Minor.

The equines, for many years, were the driving force of the Greek Army and there was a whole mechanism looking after their nutrition, farriery, harnesses, saddles, reins, stirrups even the cloak and blankets for the transport of weapons, cannons and ammunition.
The involvement of equines in battles of the Greek nation are recorded and are impressive: in the Greek-Turkish war (1821) 2.900 equines, in the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), 29,000; in World War II 47.169; in the Crimean War (1919) 10.132; in the Asia Minor War (1919-1922) 62.000;  in the Greek-Italian War (1940) 150.000.

For countries such as Greece, with mountainous terrain and lack of motorised military vehicles, equines were a key element of all military conflicts of the 20th century.
A sufficient number of equines, their physical condition and their ability to fight in the battlefield were all decisive factors as to whether the Greek army presented combat effectiveness and readiness.

The total number of equines in World War II amounted to 150,000, of which 120,000 were in units of Epirus and Western Macedonia, as Colonel Terpsidis notes in his tribute. "The inability to protect the equines from the fierce cold resulted in the death of thousands. It is worth noting that during the first two months of the war, the loss of the Cavalry Division in equines exceeded 50%."

The period between1955-1990 is characterized by the gradual motorisation of Army Units. We therefore have a constant phasing out of the equines in the Greek Army resulting in a mere presence of 1.300 equines in 1969.

The years passed and the last equines were sold in 1990, after 157 years of presence in the Greek Army. The link, however, between the soldier on the battlefield and the faithful four-legged companion was unique, and is clearly depicted in the following handwritten note left  by a soldier of  World War II on the saddle of a mule: "You fought beside us strong in the wildness of the war showers war and fell silently fighting for our freedom, an invisible and eternal hero. Your memory will last for eternity. "

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Seeking alternatives to cruel hobbling

GAWF/Animal Action launched a new project against cruel hobbling this year and we kicked this off on Paros on the 7th of June during our outreach visit.

Almost every animal on the island is hobbled, (examples below) which is where two legs are tied together by rope, and in some cases tied again to other legs, in order to restrict movement and keep the animal in the desired location. During our previous visits we informed the owners about the dangers of hobbling and handed out leaflets but this year we organised a demonstration where we actually showed them, on site, how to use electric fencing as an alternative way of restricting an animal. 

Although Paros is a main tourist destination in the Cyclades, it still retains an active tradition of farming, where horses, donkeys and mules are commonly used to work in less accessible land, and cows, sheep and goats are all raised on the island.

The field boundaries on the island are low and easily breached so, to prevent animals from crossing into neighbouring land and causing disputes, they are hobbled. This form of containment, while used for decades, is harmful to the animals. In equines, being hobbled from early life causes musculoskeletal injuries, the skin is often cut and infected by flies, working life is shortened and the animals suffer. The effects of hobbling on all animals are the same and can lead to death. A hobbled animal can’t get over a wall but the temptation of food leads them to try. Hobbling makes regaining lost balance impossible and the result is too often a broken leg followed by a slow, agonising death.

Our demonstration showed that electric fencing is easily adapted to different animals and with modern solar-powered systems it can be made to operate in a way which demands very low maintenance. This system gives animals space for feeding, easier growth and better conditions. Free walking equines are less prone to injury, lameness, breed more easily and have a longer working life.

Nick Turck from Farmcare UK explained in detail the parts of an electric fence system, the use of each part, the way they are connected and the different ways of easily adjusting the versatile fencing to be used for the different species of animals.

Four kinds of leaflets were handed out regarding the bad effects of hobbling, the advantages of the electric fencing, the procedure of setting up a fence and information on general equine care.

It was a very successful first attempt to introduce a practical alternative to hobbling. The owners that attended were genuinely interested. Some had never used electric fencing and went home completely informed on it. Others had tried to use it in the past but had failed due to problems regarding the type of animals they used it for, the dry ground etc. A few owners found it so useful that they bought their own fencing straight after the demonstration, and went home ready to install it.

We intend to demonstrate this system to larger audiences, as well as introducing more ways of training equine owners and farmers to stop using cruel hobbling.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Nora and Kostas get married

An animal-loving Greek couple, Nora and Kostas, decided that World Animal Day was the most appropriate and auspicious day of the year on which to get married… so they did. 

And Nora made sure her two rescue dogs not only accompanied her to church but also sported the kind of formal attire one would expect on such an important occasion. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Civil Disobedience in Crete - a very non-violent protest

By Anna Stamatiou

In a small but no doubt satisfying act of civil disobedience a number of dog owners took their pets for a swim yesterday.  At noon on the 21st of September the welfare association “Animal Protection”, which is based in Chania, Crete, held a party on the beach and invited owners to bring their pets along in protest against the law that forbids owners to allow their dogs into the sea at any bathing beach.  The Chania group finds this unreasonable and prejudiced as there is no evidence that allowing a dog into the sea where people are also bathing poses any increased risk to human health. 

At the good-humoured gathering there was music, balloons, and of course a bazaar in support of the group’s finances.  The group had organized a thorough clean-up (with poo bags provided – naturally) and the beach was left cleaner than before… free of both dog and human-generated waste.  What was notable by its absence was any complaint from other bathers. The lifeguard on the central beach was a bit grouchy, as apparently he worried that the party would spoil his peace and quiet, but in spite of him everyone had a good time, and most also got pretty comprehensively wet. 

There were prizes of course… for the strongest, the bravest… and the most reluctant swimmer.  There were so many “competitors” that the number of awards had to be hastily increased.  The actual prize was free micro-chipping – it’s a jolly responsible group.  Irene, one of the association’s members, had brought goodies along for Booboo’s birthday and everyone shared “nicely”.  There were no fights, and everyone went home with a balloon (though it’s not reported how many balloons actually made it off the beach in a state of er, shall we say, inflatedness).

As far as Animal Protection, Chania are aware this is the first beach party of its kind in Greece.  It was documented by the local news media and lots of people enquired as to when there would be a repeat event.  (We have heard nothing – so far – about any arrests).