No one knows what it means to rehabilitate injured birds and rescue wildlife such as hedgehogs in Crete better than British ex-patriate and resident, Margaret Clurow. The plight of any protected animal species is close to Margaret's heart.
This interest goes as far back as to her childhood when at the age of 4 her parents gave her a pet rabbit to take care of. Dogs and cats were to follow over the years and right through married life, once prompting her husband to ask if he or the animals got fed first!
As is the case with most ex-patriate residents in Crete, Margaret's first links with the island go back 20 years with her husband, Trevor. Their base of choice became Mochos/Stalida where they made many true Cretan friends over the years. The bond with Crete strengthened and the couple decided to spend their life on the island. Sadly in 1992 Trevor passed away before their dream and dream home were realised.
So "Margarita" as Greek friends call her, bravely did it alone. Firstly she found land in Sissi, Lasithi. Then designed with the help of an architect, the home she always wanted and proceeded to oversee construction through to completion. Soon after moving into her spacious house, and as a lady who likes to keep herself busy, Margaret found herself helping neglected pets and other animals. Handling distressed animals inevitably led her to be in contact with CAWG - The Haven, which is Crete's most well known animal refuge sanctuary. The Haven routinely handles domesticated animals, while creatures rescued from the wild need "quieter and peaceful" surroundings in which to recuperate, and for the most part, be left undisturbed. Word soon spread that Margaret had become known for handling injured wild birds, along with hedgehogs, of course.
Her first true success story was back in the year 2000 when she nursed back to health an adult Common Buzzard that had a broken wing and was found in the mountains above old Hersonissos. As is her standard practice, Margaret consults with a local veterinarian who on this occasion, set the Buzzard's wing. Then over several weeks she nursed the bird back to stable health. "I had to feed the bird fresh liver and chicken breast with a pair of tweezers," Margaret recounts. Then the bird had to be sent by ferry to the Aegean Wildlife Hospital of Paros where they have specialised facilities for sick animals from the wild. There the bird recovered well but it was important that the Buzzard's handlers trained the bird to regain the ability to hunt for its food. About a month later the bird was returned by ferry** for Margaret to release it back into its original habitat - above Hersonissos. (**Ferrying the birds between islands can be traumatic and stressful, so is kept to an absolute minimum.)
Since then, Margaret's ongoing successes have included specimen's of most of Crete's predatory birds including several Buzzards (L - Buteo buteo), Marsh Harrier (L - Circus aeruginosus), Black Kite (L - Milvus migrans), Hobby (L - Falco sabbuteo) and the Common Barn Owl (L - Tito alba).
No one screeches their car to halt to save a bird, do they? Well Margaret did, on another Spring morning - to rescue a tiny Sardinian Warbler (L - Sylvia melanocephala ) stranded on the roadside. This species is commonly to be found in Crete and the Mediterranean basin.
Pride and Joy of this Brit with a big heart is the rehabilitation of a Black Kite (L - Milvus migrans) in 2006. The specimen came to Margaret from a Pet shop owner who in turn had received it from a member of the public who dropped it off at the shop asking for help. Pet shop owners know of Margaret and her abilities, so often call her when such injured birds are handed to them. Margaret recounts that the Kite had magnificent plumage but had been shot and a wing broken at the shoulder. It took six months of painstaking and patient (five times a day feedings at one point) to nurse it. "Towards the end of the period I tried on many occasions to let it go, but it just refused!" she said. "Then of its own accord on one of the ritual walks on my arm outside my house, and in the company of a friend, whilst we were chatting, the bird just gracefully lifted off. With ease it glided upwards. After finding its bearings it headed in the direction of where it was found originally. Not even a trial circle or lap of honour!"
Right: Margaret Clurow with her Black Kite (L - Milvus migrans) at her home.
"That was a great moment of both joy and sadness," Margaret admits, having become so attached to this wild spirit. She adds that it takes moments in life to know just how rewarding and triumphant it feels to have helped a wild bird back to health." There are the sad moments too when creatures have to be put down due to man's folly.
As if this Great Briton is not busy enough taking care of the wild birds and other animals, she happens also to be an experienced bee keeper, a potter and has recently taken up painting!
Margaret's Advice on Helping Cretan Hedgehogs
Favourite creatures - a hedgehog
Margaret found that "Practical Wildlife Care" by Les Stocker M.B.E. contains much valuable advice on how to handle sick and injured wild animals in helping them to recover.