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The Other Wild Life in Greece

Rich fauna is often overlooked by visitors

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tan young female fox

A wild young female fox peers from her den.

Courtesy Paul Miotti, Lesbian Wildlife Center
From the untamed mountains of Epiros to the dramatic gorges of Crete, Greece presents a wide spectrum of natural beauty and unusual animal life to the traveler who takes time to explore this special richness of Greece.

As tourists have grown to be more environmentally conscious, preserving and protecting the wild has become a more popular item on the government agenda. Every time affectionate interest is taken in the local flora and fauna, the more valued the natural environment becomes to those who live there every day.

The presiding queen of wildlife preservation efforts is the National Marine Park of the Sporades, near Alonissos, part of the Sporades islands group. Lucky visitors on environmentally-sensitive yacht tours may spy the extremely rare monk seals who frolic in the waves. Striped dolphins and small whales also make appearances, along with dozens of bird species.

The Hellenic Ornithological Society is taking a very active role in encouraging the protection of breeding areas. They offer several publications and a complete bird list of Greece.

Throughout the country, volunteer organizations attempt to treat and rehabilitate injured wildlife. Many of them, including the Lesbian Wildlife Hospital, welcome visitors, volunteer veterinarians, and donations. A visit to one of these facilities can be a wonderful change of pace activity for families and may be the only chance to see rare species up close without disturbing the natural habitats.

Gavdopoula Spared

Public outcry has apparently preserved, for the time being, the unique island of Gavdopoula near Gavdos off the southern coast of Crete, at one time slated to be brutally terraformed into an offshore shipping station.

Pets and People in Greece

At present, pets in Greece are still underrated, though this is changing. Veterinary services are primarily devoted to farm animals. As euthanasia is technically illegal in Greece, even seriously injured wild or domestic animals may unnecessarily suffer. Spaying and neutering programs are still in their infancy. There are many organizations working to overcome these problems, often through grass-roots efforts. On the islands of Aigina and Milos, hollow metal statues of cats and dogs wait at doorways, hoping to be "fed" with a few Euros to support the local animal rights agency.

Those who love animals may be saddened by the stray cats and dogs who often congregate at major archaeological sites, looking for handouts. While feeding them is not encouraged by the authorities, it's extremely hard to say no to the big hopeful eyes.

Donkeys who carry tourists - and secrets

Many visitors to Greece admire the hard-working donkeys who transport passengers up the cliffs of Santorini. While these animals certainly work for their living, they are among the best-cared for animals in Greece. The decorative beads which adorn their harnesses are there for protection - the loss of one of these cherished though often stubborn animals is a blow for its owner. The donkeys on Santorini carry a certain superstitious dread as well - souls of vampires are said to reincarnate as the beasts of burden.

Caring for Caretta Caretta

The preservation of the endangered sea turtle Caretta caretta has caught the public imagination, and Archelon, the Sea Turtle Protection Society is an active group of primarily young people who mark sea turtle nests, tirelessly educate the public at temporary booths set up at beach towns during breeding season, and by their presence encourage the keeping of local laws protecting wildlife. One recent change: on the best-used breeding beaches, those who rent sunbeds now have to stack them up at night so the turtles will not encounter these barriers. And in the daytime, if you see wires protuding from the sand, it's not a framework for someone's especially complicated sandcastle. Beneath it lie fragile sea turtle eggs, so stay away. The next generation depends on it.

Katelios Group: Sea Turtle Protection Image Gallery

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