It’d be an omission if you go to Aigina and not visit the Hellenic Wildlife Medical Facility (EKPAZ). It’s 10 kilometers away from the port of Aigina following Pachia Rachi and before Anitsaio. I don’t know why, but there is no transportation to the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital. You will either have to rent out some means of transportation or to flag down a cab. It’ll cost you 16 euros to / from Aigina.
EKPAZ covers a huge area with a lot of buildings and huge cages and you’ll realize that you are there from the winged friends that live in the area even after their release. Our tour guide is Mr. Giannis, a well-built man with a sun-tanned face, a beard and curly hair and an amazing disposition to introduce us to the avian world. When I arrived at EKPAZ, I saw him slice chicken for the hawks.
He speaks passionately about EKPAZ that operates 23 years now with no governmental aid besides the free supply of water from the Municipality. He feels grateful for the offers of big companies such as PINDOS for chicken, in a number that may reach 800 kilos weekly, TROFINO in biological foods, seeds and legumes as well as SHELL with 200 liters of heating gas. It also accepts money from donations, schools, several clubs and of course personal contributions.
The last two years, EKPAZ operates exclusively with volunteers. These people are not only from Greece but from countries abroad too and for the most part they are vet students and students of environmental studies doing their practice. People have come from Austria, Finland, Canada, Jerusalem, Turkey, Africa, South Africa, China, the Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Palestine, USA, Brazil etc. Their training is based on the long experience of EKPAZ which was founded in 1984. It also has a branch in northern Greece in the city of Thessalonica and there is round the clock communication with the rest of the country via private citizens, clubs, organizations, universities and governmental services who ease the operation of EKPAZ.
Today the Center hosts 1.500 birds and other animals like monkeys, raccoons, iguanas, parrots etc. that come from exotic places, while others have been bought from several pet shops since they were abandoned as well as following impounding from the Forest Authority. Once a seagull was brought in that traveled in a ship all the way from Sweden! Releases occur often and they accept new animals on a daily basis.
The Center is fortunate to host some species of birds that are now threatened with extinction. The Red List of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) that was drafted by 7000 specialized scientists from around the world classifies the endangered species in three categories: vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered.
A spotted eagle belongs in the endangered species category in European level. It spent its winters in Greece and was crippled following a gun shot. Lesser Spotted Eagle belongs in the vulnerable category too of the Red List for Greece.
In the past EKPAZ had hosted an Imperial Eagle too, which belongs to the endangered category too. In general, birds of prey belong in the species that are much more endangered mainly due to lack of natural feed, poisonous baits that farmers put but also from quarries that operate in mountains where the birds have their nests.
It is remarkable that 75% of the general population is found here in Greece, meaning that around 4.500 hawk species are found here in Greece, but these too are endangered from pesticides.
He showed me Peregrine, the fastest species on Earth, it “flies” over 300 kilometers an hour and there are only 300 pairs of it globally, most of them in Greece. Its roommate is a falcon known as Saker Falcon that is found mainly in Hungary. In Greece it was found while on its way to Saudi Arabia. Long-legged buzzard is recognized from its red beak and we’ve found out that 2/3 of its European population is found in Greece.
At the Center we’ve also seen flamingoes that do not have their nests in Greece but were shot by hunters while they were on the move and were found in Greece. We’ve also seen many “green turtles”, a fox wandering worriedly in its cage and we saw a European Honey-Buzzard taking a close look at us.
There are also herons, seagulls, fallarides and a strange avian species called Little Bittern, that imitates reeds. When the wind blows, it too bends like reeds do. I’ve never seen a funnier spectacle! The list goes on: gallinules, tourlids, swans, ducks, a special species of duck, called moschopapies, geese, pelicans and black pelicans, a rare species, very secluded birds. In Greece there are only 35-40 pairs.
Something I didn’t know is that Greece is the sole European country where pelicans have their nests on the ground. Both pelican species are found over Mikri Prespa (Prefecture of Florina in western Macedonia). This species at European level while ¼ of its global population is found in Greece. The species of the Great White Egret is also a rare species and in Greece live only 45-60 pairs.
Lesser Kestrel is considered as an endangered species at European level. In Greece there are 500 pairs, it lives at house tills and is endangered due to pesticides. There is also the golden eagle that too is an endangered species since it becomes an easy target due to the fact that it flies very low.
Basic aim of the Center is the care and the incorporation anew of the animals into their natural habitat. With their presence they help the economy of an area and the quality of life. To illustrate, a falcon eats up to 10.000 mice annually. This means that farmers won’t spend money on pesticides, which means low production costs and as a result, unadulterated goods.
Also, there are many birds that look ferocious but in reality are very calm. He illustrates this with the example of the buzzards. Mr. Giannis says that Kostis Palamas, our great poet, used to compare buzzards with “flying sheep”. These are among the cleanest birds, just like the canary we have in our homes! It is found on the top of the avian pyramid and for that it is most sensitive in environmental changes. Its presence is an index of the health of the ecosystem.
Today there is no natural feed for them and they are endangered. It Dadia (Prefecture of Evros) a successful experiment was tried, the method of feeding with nose-bags. In the island of Crete 400 pairs of buzzards are found, i.e. 70-80% of the Greek population of buzzards live there, which is not unusual since over 4 million goats roam free there.
Our visit reaches its end, we sneak a peak at the waiting room and at the other areas of the Center. Turtles, two iguanas and “Boulis” a small snake that grew up in the hands of Mr. Giannis. While we go, he reminds us that the Center accepts volunteers from a single day to as long as they like. Specified knowledge is not necessary. What is needed is collective spirit of work and love for animals.
I believe that a visit to the Center is an obligatory one. If you can stay and help for a few days, that will be even better. The “avian kingdom” is marvelous but so unfamiliar to us all! When you leave don’t forget to shut the door well; the pony might leave!
|ddress:||PO Box 57 Aigina, Greece 18010|
|URL – E-mail:||www.ekpazp.gr // ekpaz [at] ekpaz.gr|
|Telephone:||(0030) 22970 31338|