Monday, 2 November 2015

Crash landings in Kasos - by Anna Stamatiou, Trustee

It has taken a long time for the small island of Kasos in the south-eastern Aegean to form a local welfare group.  It’s a tiny community.  There are only about 900 permanent residents after all, and many of them struggle with subsistence farming – scratching a living from arid and rocky ground that has been overgrazed and depleted down the years.  There are enough olive trees for the people to produce their own year’s supply of oil, while the sheep and goats (too many for the land to support naturally – thank you, EC subsidies) have to have their diet supplemented with bought-in feed corn. 

So it’s a tough place to live, and there is no inclination to sentimentality when it comes to animals and their welfare.

Nevertheless, there have been gifts of surprising creatures made to the municipality over the years, probably in a misguided attempt to support the local community by providing an “attraction” that might serve to amuse the locals and draw in much-needed summer visitors.  A pair of ostriches (both male… ooops!) turned up at some point; a pair of fallow deer followed; someone went abroad and abandoned a colourful macaw.  When a pair of Shetland ponies was donated they soon began to breed and now there are nine of them! 

Conditions at the menagerie where all these are housed are not as good as they might be.  Lack of funding too often means that standards of cleanliness and availability of food and water can be serious issues.  Animals don’t have appropriate space or good enough shelters.  Various people began protesting and also agitating for something to be done for the stray cat and dog population.    About a year ago a welfare group was formally constituted and began working in a more organised way than before.  Automatic cat-feeders have since appeared in town, placed there to try and support the colonies that struggle to survive the winter.  Neutering trips have also taken place, and conditions for the equines at the menagerie have recently begun to improve. 

Two Eleonora's falcons

GAWF’s Equine Team has visited three times in four years and you can read reports of those visits here.  After castration of the two Shetland stallions the herd will not, now, grow larger, and the birth defects that would have been the inevitable consequence of severe inbreeding will be avoided.
While the welfare group expected to be involved with improving conditions at the menagerie, and to do something to control the numbers of stray companion animals, perhaps its members didn’t bargain for some of the other challenges that have since come their way…

In September, a couple of wounded, rare and endangered Eleonora’s falcons were found – within a day of each other – and there was general consternation… who could diagnose what was wrong with the birds?  There is no vet on Kasos.  But Isabella, the group’s President, rose to the occasion and quickly arranged for the pair to be sent to Athens by ferry where ANIMA – the wildlife rescue organisation – was able to care for them.  Pictures of the birds on their way to recovery appeared on social media, and word went round.
The pelican, resting

So a couple of days ago, when a large, grey pelican fetched up in someone’s garden, limping a bit and clearly exhausted, the locals swung into action like a well-oiled machine…

Young mum, Dionysia, posted a photo… farmer, Filippis, arrived on his tractor and took the bird home where he tenderly fed it and gave it water.  His wife, Julie, and dance-teacher, Eliza, gently persuaded the bird into a cardboard box for a journey while it was otherwise occupied trying to eat Eliza’s knee, and it, too, has now arrived at ANIMA’s rescue centre. 

This novel interest in animal welfare seems to be providing the small community with a whole new sense of pride and achievement.  Long may it last!

Julie and Eliza preparing the pelican for travel
Filippis shows his tender side

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