Europe is famous for its cities and their architecture. From the Eiffel tower to the Colosseum and the Acropolis. Cities and building that shows the continent’s rich history. However, Europe used to be more than its metropolises. Before the arrival of those cities, European wildlife was widespread and diverse. Then, agriculture, mining, and construction (amongst others) took over, and the area of untouched nature in Europe decreased. Species like bears, wolfs, and lynxes no longer had a home, and numbers reduced rapidly. This went on for years until the second half of the 20th century. By then, the impacts of human activities on the environment and wildlife gained awareness and the first international agreements on wildlife protection were established. In the 1990s, many European wildlife preservation initiatives started. The protected areas of Natura 2000, for example, or the environmental center of Arcturos in Greece.
Wildlife in Greece
Greece used to be one of the European countries, home to a large wildlife population. The untouched and rough mountainous landscape in the North was the perfect habitat for boars, bears, wolfs, and lynxes. However, by the end of the 20th century, not many wild animals still lived in the country. Most wolfs and bears were held in captivity. Males were castrated, chained, and used for human entertainment. As a counter-initiative, Arcturos was founded in 1992.
What is Arcturos
Arcturos is a word that dates back to ancient Greece. Arktos means bear, and ouros is a watcher or guardian. Arcturos is the modern-day guardian of the Greek bears. As an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), their first goal was to solve the problem of the “dancing bears” in Greece. When they succeeded, the organization grew and changed to not only rescuing bears that have been in captivity but also increasing the bear population in Greece, as well as protecting their habitat.
What does Arcturos do?
To expand the wildlife population in Greece, Arcturos has to work in various fields. Examples are advising the Greek government, protecting the forest, educating locals, and helping wild animals in need. The organization is mostly active between the Rhodope and the Pindus mountains.
Only ten days ago, Arcturos saved two bear pups from human interference. When an excavation separated two bear cubs from their mother, Arcturos was able to find them. The organization reunited the family, giving the two cubs a chance to grow up in the wild.
Bears are not as scary as they seem
The reason bears became close to extinct in Greece was mostly based on fear. Bears are known as aggressive and dangerous animals we have to protect ourselves against. However, one of Arcturos’ main missions is to educate people that this image is wrong. For starters, only 10% of a bear’s diet is meat, mostly they eat herbs, plants, fruits, and vegetables. Besides, if a wild bear can choose between walking away or crossing your path, he (or she) will always choose to leave. Bears are animals that live in solitude from humans and even form each other. A bear attack is rare and only occurs when the bear feels like it has no other option left.
To protect farmers and bears, Arcturos currently works to preserve the Greek shepherd dog. You might wonder what this dog has to do with the bears. Well, these dogs are the best protection against wild bears. The shepherd dog can notice a bear from far and will start barking. The bears hear this bark and will turn the other way. The farmer and his farm will not encounter a bear, and the bear will not run into a human. Safer for both of them!
The Arcturos sanctuary
The sanctuary of Arcturos is the place most of the organization’s work takes place. They have a Wildlife Clinic, with an operating room and first aid facility for wild animals that have been hurt. Besides, they have the Wildlife Reintroduction Centre. Here, they host animals until they are ready to survive in the wild on their own. These places are closed to the public since wild animals should not become used to the presence of humans.
The final part of the Arcturos sanctuary is the Conservation Area. This area is for the animals that, unfortunately, will not be able to return to the wild. Animals that have been in captivity too long, have been castrated, or are too used to human interaction. Arcturos gives them a safe place to live their lives as naturally as possible.
When in Greece, you can visit the Arcturos sanctuary. It is located close to Edessa, in the North of Greece, hidden behind the mountain village of Nymfaio. For only 8 euros per person (or €5,- per child) you can attend a tour through the sanctuary. Tours start every hour between 10:00 and 15:00. On Wednesday however, everything is closed and when you plan on visiting in the first months of the year, be aware that the bears might still be in hibernation.
The tour is a great chance to see the Greek brown bear form close, but more importantly, you support the work of Arcturos and learn a lot about their organization. The main tour is in Greek most of the time, depending on the group of attendees. However, the tour guides are fluid in English and take time to explain and answer all your questions privately.
Are you inspired by the story and work of Arcturos and interested in helping them and the bears in Greece? You can donate money, adopt an animal, or visit their webshop for support. However, they are always looking for volunteers from all over the world. Arcturos will provide you with a place to stay, and you can help the organization with PR, souvenirs, education, and maintenance. For more information, visit their website.
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