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.