148 tortoises released back into the wild
Last week, IFAW’s Céline Sissler-Bienvenu was in Athens with tortoise expert Sébastien Caron from SOPTOM to assist our partner ANIMA. The team at ANIMA has been caring for a few hundred tortoises at their two sites in Athens and Kalyvia, as well as at Attica Zoological Park which provided space for some of the tortoises rescued. They are one of three wildlife care centres in the entirety of Greece—they care for around 8,000 animals per year.
Alongside ANIMA’s veterinarian Gregoris, Sébastien assessed the most severely injured tortoises, which involved smelling them to determine if they had infections. One of the nine most injured tortoises at the centre near Athens could potentially be released next week, but others will have to undergo extensive treatment. Unfortunately, for some severely injured tortoises, euthanasia is deemed necessary to prevent further suffering.
At the Attica Zoological Park, helped by Vassilis, the Founder of the NGO Save your Hood and its volunteering vet Kleopatra, Céline and Sébastien assessed the health of the 192 tortoises individually, and identified which were ready to be released.
As research has shown that tortoises will remain in their original habitat—even if it’s been destroyed—it was important that the team released these tortoises in or as close as possible to their original homes. Led by Vassilis, the team visited three possible release sites and prepared 148 tortoises for release.
On Saturday, 16 September, all 148 tortoises were successfully released in the Mount Parthenion area. Thanks to the dedication of IFAW, SOPTOM, dozens of Save Your Hood volunteers and ANIMA, these tortoises can now roam freely, happily, and healthily, and hopefully will rebuild their populations.
IFAW is deploying to Greece
September 8, 2023
As more wildfires struck Greece in August, there has been an influx of injured tortoises, and ANIMA requested IFAW’s support with rescue, rehabilitation, and release efforts. In response, IFAW is deploying a small team to Greece on Monday to assist ANIMA’s wildlife rescue and rehabilitation team.
ANIMA’s team took in over 400 tortoises during and after the fires in July. Some tortoises just require monitoring, while others need intensive care for burnt legs, burnt shells, and respiratory problems due to toxic smoke inhalation.
Our team going to Greece consists of Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, program director for Disaster Response & Risk Reduction in Europe at IFAW, and Sébastien Caron, director of Conservation & Science at SOPTOM, a French NGO focused on scientific research into and conservation programs for reptiles and in particular tortoises. Caron has extensive experience in handling tortoises impacted by wildfires. He will train local wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators in treating these animals and assessing them to determine if they should be treated on-site or brought to ANIMA’s facilities.
The wildfires that started in mid-August had burnt over 93,000 hectares (230,000 acres) of land by early September. One was close to Athens while the other burned in the Evros and Alexandropoulos region in the northeast. That fire was qualified by the European Commission as the largest ever in the EU since the European Forest Fire Information System began recording data in 2000.
It impacted large parts of Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park, which is a vital sanctuary for birds of prey, such as eagles and vultures, and home to a wide array of plants, butterflies, bats, and reptiles like tortoises. Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park is part of Natura 2000, the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. It offers a haven to Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats.
Fires are under control, but injured wildlife still need help
August 1, 2023
After two weeks of wildfires raging across Greece, slightly lower temperatures and calmer winds have allowed firefighters to get the fires under control, but flareups continue across the country.
ANIMA’s wildlife carers and rehabilitators have been working around the clock to provide daily care to the animals that were brought into the center. This includes nursing, feeding, and treating injuries following the veterinarian’s instructions. ANIMA’s veterinarian is among the few in Greece who have expertise and experience in caring for wild animals.
“Our 13 dedicated staff received up to 400 calls per day, and the number of animals requiring care, treatment, and shelter far surpassed anything we’ve experienced before,” said Maria Ganoti, General Manager at ANIMA.
In July alone, ANIMA received over 1,700 animals, averaging around 70 animals per day at the First Aid Station. “Most of them arrived dehydrated and exhausted from the heat or with burn injuries,” Ganoti added. The team has received around 300 tortoises from the fire-affected areas, which they are currently caring for until autumn, when the new grass growth will allow their release back into the wild.
ANIMA also received 15 griffon vultures in the last week of July, and they anticipate more until the temperatures drop significantly. These birds require treatment with fluids, medicines, and vitamins, and they need to stay at the First Aid Station until they fully recover and can be released.
Over 800 young swifts arrived at the station in the past two months. ANIMA is housing them until they reach an appropriate age to make their migratory journey to Africa in the autumn. During heatwaves, the temperature in their nests can reach up to 70°C, causing the young birds to overheat and leave prematurely, leading them to be found on sidewalks and balconies. Caring for them is extremely time-consuming, requiring an increased number of caregivers to feed them every two hours for around three minutes.
In the past month, nearly 100 lesser kestrels were brought in from Larissa, Trikala, and Karditsa, cities in the Thessalian plain and among the warmest in Greece. High temperatures have forced the young birds to jump from their nests to escape the unbearable heat.
In response to the major fires in Attica and other parts of Greece, ANIMA has been organizing rescue missions together with hundreds of volunteers. The rescue teams are recording losses, rescuing trapped animals (such as tortoises, lizards, snakes and owls), providing first aid on site, and transporting the injured animals to ANIMA’s facilities for further care and treatment. IFAW’s support helps cover some of the fuel costs of these missions and the care for rescued animals.
A recent mission brought the team to the island of Rhodes, where the only natural population of fallow deer in Greece resides. Their habitat has been burning for over a week, and ANIMA is collaborating with local forest authorities, gamekeepers, veterinarians, and the municipality of Rhodes by patrolling the affected areas and collecting and treating injured wildlife. Some of the deer were also killed due to collisions with cars as they tried to flee the fires.
Greek minister for climate change and civil protection Vassilis Kikilias and the Athens Observatory have indicated that the fires have burned almost 50,000 hectares (500 square kilometres) of forest and vegetation. In addition, in the month of July alone, 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 have been emitted in Greece as a result of the wildfires.
In addition to the emissions unleashed by high-intensity blazes, the loss of biodiversity is a major concern, but it will take time to assess the full environmental impact of the wildfires in Greece.
Fires deal severe blow to local wildlife
July 24, 2023
Firefighters continue to battle dozens of wildfires across Greece as the country faces further intense heat this week.
Greek firefighters, while backed by air water bombers and reinforcements from Cyprus, France, Israel, and Italy are struggling to contain wildfires west of Athens and on the islands of Rhodes and Corfu. The risk of additional wildfires in the coming days will remain high due to ongoing heat.
Greece’s Special Secretariat for the Protection of Companion Animals has been receiving incessant rescue calls, so the Ministry opened six additional hotlines answering calls about any animals (not just pets) that are trapped or have been injured in the ongoing fires. As a result, more than 300 cats, dogs, farm animals, and horses have already been rescued from the East Attica wildfires.
ANIMA’s premises are in Kalivia, an area affected by the fire in East Attica. Luckily, they sustained very little damage due to the immediate action of staff and volunteers. However, the wildfires have dealt a severe blow to local wildlife, especially tortoises and hedgehogs, destroying their habitats. The number of animals admitted to ANIMA’s center has risen every day, as the fires are still active and animal rescue remains difficult.
The center faces soaring costs of fuel, electricity, and telephone bills and also rising costs of animal food. The number of tortoises the center has received, for instance, is far greater than normal and the reptiles will stay in their care until at least September if they have sustained burns and/or other health issues from the fire. This requires a large amount of fresh leafy greens on a daily basis.
ANIMA needs many people and a lot of medicine to take care of the increased number of animals in need of urgent treatment. It’s also nestling period for birds (the days between hatching and leaving the nest [i.e., fledging] for each individual nestling) so the intakes have soared and staff, volunteers, and interns are working non-stop.
IFAW rushes aid in response to wildfires in Greece
July 21, 2023
Wildfires that have blazed through Greece for several days - the direct result of climate change and extreme temperatures - have displaced thousands of people and countless animals.
Greece has activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to receive support from other countries. The Ministry of Interior, via their Special Secretariat for the Protection of Companion Animals, sent out messages via social media urging citizens to proactively evacuate with their animals or call for help to rescue and transport animals with trucks. They wrote, “Don’t abandon your animals, don’t leave them helpless, tied and trapped in the areas affected by fires. Every life has value.” IFAW commends the Secretariat for their animal rescue support efforts, which set an example for other European countries.
We are sending urgent support to ANIMA, a non-profit association near Athens that operates the main wildlife First Aid Station in Greece. Our support will go towards:
- Veterinary care for burnt animals arriving at the center
- Vital medicine and animal food
- Rescue support to save precious lives
Wildlife, people and pets need urgent support as the heatwaves and fires continue, and IFAW’s disaster response and rescue team is rushing aid where it is needed most.
To apply for an emergency grant to help animals threatened by this disaster, local associations can send their request to the following address: email@example.com.