By Nadja Sayej
The serene Greek island of Paros is home to an unlikely but special hospital called the Paros Wildlife Hospital Alkioni, which helps heal injured animals.
Set on a dry strip of farmland, the hospital is not easy to get to—it is a 20-minute drive from the main port of Parikia, public transport is uncommon in this area, which is mostly residential and filled with farmland.
The animals that arrive at the hospital have typically been shot by hunters or are exhausted from migrating across the Mediterranean. The island is on a route between Africa and Europe where many birds fly to Africa from mid-August to October.
On a recent visit to the hospital, one volunteer Dimitris Kehagioglou explained the demand for its existence—during low season, they feed 250 birds a day, while in high season, they feed up to 500 birds. “Some birds heal and are set free, others stay here for the rest of their lives,” said Kehagioglou.
But it isn’t just birds, as there is everything from baby hedgehogs to tortoises and rabbits. “And last night, a quail came after being caught by a cat,” said Kehagioglou. “He is currently on antibiotics.”
One large, old cage is the heart of the hospital, which is divided into smaller, sheltered compartments for birds; yellow-legged gulls, stork, buzzards and rare falcons. “If it’s the right habitat, we let animals free or send them to northern Greece to have them released,” said Kehagioglou.
But if they’re not? They will simply call the hospital home sweet home. “One vulture has been here for eight years and will never be able to fly again, so will one 15-year-old donkey, which has a dislocated back leg and was deemed useless to a local farmer,” he said.
There is a gorgeous golden eagle that was found in the mainland of Greece, a grey heron and a snake eagle; also, a group of 20 peacocks have recently started breeding at the hospital. There is also a small bald eagle, which was shot by hunters. There is a group of five grey doves sitting with broken wings, some of which are blind because they were shot at by hunters. “The bullets go into their eyes,” said Kehagioglou. “We want to stop the beginning of the hunting season in August to protect the animals.”
The wildlife hospital was founded in January 1995, when the hospital founder Marios Fournaris found two injured seagulls. Ever since, he’s built the hospital bit by bit while treating animals that he found or were sent his way through the island’s word of mouth.
The hospital had a big renovation from 1998 to 2000 and, with the help of 112 volunteers, the 1,500-square-meter space was developed into a masterpiece. Today, it has an artificial lake for pelicans and the flamingos, a surgery room, two first aid rooms, an X-Ray lab, an environmental education hall and accommodation for volunteers.
The nearby Monastery of Logovarda owns the land and the hospital pays them monthly rent. It’s funded by annual subscriptions and donations of members and friends (30 euros for a minimum subscription and 60 euros per family), which helps pay for costs and materials, like construction of new wire cages, as the current cages are 18-years-old and rusty.
The real magic, however, is releasing the animals back into the wild with due time. “The best moment is setting the animals free,” said Kehagioglou. “Some even come back to visit.”
Nadja Sayej is a Canadian journalist based in Berlin who covers art and culture, as well as travel in Europe. Her trademark are her celebrity interviews, as she has interviewed everyone from Yoko Ono to Susan Sarandon. When she isn't writing, she is rapping onstage as the art critic rapper, Snowe White. Check out her work at nadjasayej.com and on Instagram @snowewhitemusic. She is always game for an epic travel selfie.