Paros wouldn’t be Greek if the air wasn’t always filled with paramythia (tales). Sometimes the tales are nasty (koutsoboulio, or gossip) but some are so beautiful that they deserve to be remembered. One such story that has been in the air of Paros for some time lately is this one:
“Have you seen the flamingo near Livadia Beach? Did you know that Marios from the Aegean Wildlife Hospital saved the bird’s life and then took him to the north of Greece to release him again into the wild? Well, the bird didn’t like it there and flew back to Paros! Now it’s living in Mario’s sanctuary again with the other flamingos that can't fly any more and every day it takes off for a little trip around the island.”
Certainly on Paros one should not always try to find out the truth behind beautiful tales in order not to spoil the magic. So it was with a bit of hesitation that I called Marios to find out the truth behind this one. Well, as usual, the truth is a little different from the tale, but it’s still very, very worthwhile remembering.
Marios knows everything about birds! So this is what he told me...
There are large flocks of flamingos in various parts of Greece, mostly on the sweet water lakes in eastern Greece in places like Mytilini, or at the mouth of the Evros River between Greece and Turkey. They are doing well and their numbers are rising. They make love but amazingly they don’t breed in Greece because an essential element is lacking in the environment. To breed, flamingos have to fly to Lake Natron in Tanzania near the border with Kenya, from where they once originated. Because of evaporation during the dry season, the lake’s water is saturated with salt and full of microorganisms that only thrive in those conditions. Some of these synthesize the pigments that give flamingos their characteristic pink colour. It is the only place in the world where flamingos breed, one reason being that the lake’s caustic environment protects their nests from predators. From there, young flamingos migrate to the sometimes faraway habitats of their parents.
Some 12 years ago, a baby flamingo was found on Nisyros Island (between Kos and Rhodes), and was brought to Mario’s bird sanctuary on Paros where it joined the flamingos already there, some of them so crippled that they would never fly again.
The baby flamingo grew up to become a beautiful healthy adult bird, and was taken by Marios to the area of Angelokhorion in Thessaly to join other flamingos in the wild. But, as Marios told me, flamingos bond very strongly together. So about a week after it was released, Marios was called by a friend who had been watching the recent flamingo arrival from Paros. The bird looked very, very sad, had not shown any interest in fellow flamingos, and was obviously very lonely. So Marios went again to bring it back to Paros. When the bird came home, it started dancing! For this flamingo, Paros is paradise! It flies around the island, not necessarily even coming back for the night to Mario’s bird sanctuary (how naughty!). Apart from Livadia, it also likes Kolimbithres. Marios goes out to look for it and to feed it crushed corn (flamingos don’t eat fish but filter the water like whales).
Paros is paradise for other flamingos too. Once upon a time, another flamingo was taken by Marios to be released near Katerini in Macedonia after it had recovered in the Aegean Wildlife Hospital. On the way the poor bird developed a bad leg wound, so Marios brought him back to Paros to be reunited with his girlfriend who had stayed behind. The poor flamingo couldn’t walk but his girlfriend loved him so dearly and had been saddened so much by her lover’s departure that she started dancing when he came back. Marios made the wounded bird a swing seat hanging from a tree so that the love birds could look into each others’ eyes. Sadly, the wound didn’t heal and after several days the male flamingo passed away. His girlfriend never left his side during those days and after her lover had gone forever, she kept wailing, like Greek women do on Megali Paraskevi, for three full days…
Want to hear one more story? In his sanctuary, Marios has a red-breasted goose. This is a rare species of goose that is mainly found in the Siberian Steppe. In the sanctuary there are of course always ducks too. Mother ducks defend their ducklings ferociously against invaders. But the red-breasted goose is allowed by the mother duck to take her ducklings out for swimming lessons. When the lessons are over, goose-the-primary-duck-school-teacher brings the ducklings back to mother duck, as it should be. Even after the fall from grace, there is sometimes harmony in the paradise of Paros…
So if you see the flamingo, please leave it alone, and don’t try to feed it. If you want to help, support the Aegean Wildlife Hospital (Alkyoni). You can make a contribution, as a volunteer or financially, or if you would like to become a member, please contact the Alkyoni:
Website: www.alkioni.gr Tel/Fax: 22840-22931
Alpha Bank A/c No. 625-002101-015796
If you find an injured wild animal or bird
- Immobilise it by gently throwing a large cloth over it;
- Find an adequately sized cardboard box or animal carrier, making sure there are air holes in the side;
- Keep the animal/bird away from your face, place it in the box, and close it securely;
- Place the box in a warm, quiet, dark and safe place (never leave outside the house, as injured animals have a unique ability to escape); and
- Call the Aegean Wildlife Hospital immediately to receive instructions so that the animal/bird can receive proper treatment as quickly as possible.