In June 2000 the Alkyoni, the first Wildlife Hospital in Greece that was specially designed and constructed for this purpose, opened its gates. For director Mario Fournaris, who had been running the operation in his own house and back yard since 1995, a vision had come true. The realization of this project was only possible with the help of friends and members of the association, the work of over 100 volunteers from all over the world, the generous assistance of local authorities and local businesses, fundraising campaigns, sponsorship and donations from various companies and organizations. It took several years and considerable persistence to obtain a permanent licence, for which new laws were needed. The intention was to create a centre of respect for wildlife and the environment, a place for the healing and recovery of wild birds and mammals, with the goal of releasing them to their natural habitat after successful treatment. Permanently injured animals stay in the centre for the term of their natural life. Euthanasia is not an option except in extreme cases.
The Alkyoni currently comprises the following facilities:
- 28 aviaries to house birds separated into like species;
- Large fenced areas with an artificial lake for fresh water and sea birds;
- A building comprising a treatment unit (surgery, X-Ray room and 2 rooms for intensive care), the office, storerooms (where huge amounts of frozen meat, different seeds and grains are kept) and living quarters for volunteers. Also the Environmental Education Hall which is equipped with photographs, slides and films and is designed to provide information for children and adults in order to increase awareness and respect for wildlife and the environment.
All species of wild birds and small mammals are admitted such as hare, bats, lizards, hedgehogs etc., and animals arrive from all over the country. There is a network of volunteers who pick them up, bring them to the nearest local 'first aid station' (there are about 30 of them all over Greece) and then ship them to Paros, where they are immediately taken care of by Mario and his assistant Serafim Taloglou.
Mario, who is profoundly dedicated to his work, has extensive knowledge about wildlife. In 1999, together with a medical doctor, he published a book about first aid for wild birds (Protes Boitheies gia Agria Poulia - Panos Marafelias & Marios Fournaris, 1999, Athens, Ekdoseis Filippoti) .
According to Mario, the most important thing is the knowledge about how to keep the animal or bird, which is extremely distressed by the shock of injury and captivity, safe and wild. Each species requires to be kept in the proper way - as much as possible out of the reach of human voice and touch - place , temperature, the right light and food being important factors. Some birds, like sparrowhawk and osprey have to be treated with great care in the dark and to be released as soon as possible, because they would not survive captivity for long.
Mario and Serafim take care of the first aid (bandages, simple fractures) - more complicated operations are carried out free of charge by the local vet Antonis Lambrou. The private Medical Center provides X-ray and blood tests.
Currently the Alkyoni is hosting a number of permanently disabled residents such as one-winged sea gulls, flamingos, pelicans, herons, storks, geese and ducks. Out of the 50 invalid buzzards, 30 kestrels and different species of small water birds, 20% are waiting to be released in spring. A very special guest is a lapped faced vulture. It was illegally trapped in North Africa, sold to the zoo in Prague, from where, equipped with a ring and a transmitter, it escaped and was found weak and exhausted in Evia, Greece. By now, the vulture is fat and happy and is waiting for a lift back home. Anybody volunteering?
Most of the birds that find their way into the Alkyoni's care became exhausted, ill or injured during migration when travelling from Northern Europe to Africa in the late summer and returning in spring.
Sadly enough most of the injuries are caused by shotguns.
The hunting season in Greece is one of the longest in Europe, lasting from the 20th of August until the 28th of February. By law a licence is required to hunt, allowing only certain species of animals and only a certain number of them (some water birds, some seed-eating small birds and wild rabbits).
Hunters must be at least 300m away from the sea and 150m away from houses. No hunting is permitted between sunset and sunrise, nor in towns or villages.
Unfortunately we must face the fact that the rules are not always followed, that there are some illegal hunters (who often enough manage to shoot each other!) and that even children are seen 'practising' sometimes with shotguns in their hands. Some 'Paros Life' readers have reported being showered with lead shot in their own gardens because hunters were shooting so close to their homes.
Violations to the hunting laws can be reported to Ioannis Sarris, employee of the Forestry Department on Paros, Tel: 22840-22331. (An idea one of our readers told us has worked well to intimidate violators to move to another area has been to take photographs of them - this also serves as proof of the violation).
There are also two protected areas on Paros (so far) where hunting is prohibited. One is below the big monastery of Ag. Anargiri above town, one is in the area of Marathi. At the moment there is an ongoing discussion about a possible expansion of the protected areas. Based on the environmental studies by Mr. Diamantopoulos and Mr. Gettlich, three different opinions have been handed in by the Forestry Department, the Hunters Society and the Wildlife Hospital. In addition to the already existing areas the Alkyoni proposed two areas which are crucially important for the nesting and migration of rare species: the north coast between Krios and the Bay of Naoussa, and a large area in the middle of the island around Ag.Pantes. For obvious reasons there is a massive conflict of interest between the different parties, which resulted in quite a struggle, the perseverance and determination of the Alkyoni being once again put to the test. So far no decision has been made and it could be years before anything is finalized.
For the coming year Mario is planning an educational campaign which will be funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Part of the money will be spent on equipment, part of it will be invested in a package of leaflets, posters and DVDs to be sent to all schools in the Cyclades for free.
The production of the Anti Hunting DVD is sponsored by the RSPCA International (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).
The Aegean Wildlife Hospital is an accredited member of the European Wildlife Association and a non profit-organisation. All the work is carried out by volunteers and running costs are covered by donations of friends and members, fundraising and sponsorship.
The number of awards that have been given to the Alkyoni (the most recent one in 2003 by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature) reflect and highlight the immeasurable value of the work that has been done.
Mario himself measures success more in terms of effective treatment and release of his small patients - the Hospital has an overall release rate of 60% and the animals and birds are always released to their natural environment or on migratory routes.
Alkyoni visiting hours are daily from 11:00-13:00.
If you wish to make a contribution, as a volunteer or financially, or if you would like to become a member, please contact the Alkyoni: