The story of our successful campaign to rescue the ‘zoo’ animals of Kasos
The GAWF/Animal Action Equine Team has been visiting the small island of Kasos, down in the Southern Aegean, since 2011. Like many remote communities, Kasos has never had a resident vet. Nevertheless, a diminishing population of donkeys is still employed by the older generation to help work the land and raise sheep and goats, while the younger stockmen have moved to using off-road vehicles for their seasonal tasks. We found the island’s working equidae to be always in need of attention on every visit. Extractions of rotten teeth and the cutting of extraordinarily overgrown hooves were problems we came to expect, but on a couple of occasions we even had to euthanise an animal to release it from a lingering death.
An unlicensed municipal ‘zoo’
One of our regular ‘stops’ was at the island’s small, unlicensed, municipal ‘zoo’. Over the years various well-wishers had donated a pair of deer, a couple of ostriches (which both turned out to be male!), a couple of Shetland ponies, a peacock, an Amazonian macaw and a variety of fancy pheasants, quail and other fowl. Some donkeys and ponies had been taken in as well, either because elderly owners no longer had any use for them or because they weren’t able to go on caring for them. Our team was never impressed by the conditions these animals were kept in, and on our annual visits we made repeated representations to the town hall, calling for improvements. In this we were supported by the local welfare group. However, very few improvements ever materialised.
Since the status of the ‘zoo’ had never been formalised, the municipality had constant difficulty in budgeting for staff, medical attention, feed, housing and hygiene for the animals in its care. Gradually, some of the animals were dying. Both deer had met their ends in reportedly dramatic circumstances, and the peacock, an elderly pony, and one of the ostriches were also gone. There were hardly any fancy fowl to see, either. The Shetland ponies, on the other hand, increased in number, as the original pair had bred, and at its height their herd numbered 9. Our vet had grave concerns about the health of any future offspring, given that all the little ponies were descended from a single pair. It was only a matter of time before genetic malformations and/or mental issues would appear. We sought the town hall’s permission to geld the two stallions, and this was done.
Taking legal action to rescue the animals
By 2016 there were only the Shetlands, two standard-sized ponies, two donkeys, the macaw and the ostrich remaining. Frustrated and concerned about the steady deterioration of the condition of the equidae in particular (they were professionally assessed as underweight), we negotiated with the Greek Society for the Protection of the Horse (ESPI – a non-profit organisation) and obtained its agreement to offer the equidae a new home at its stables outside Athens if we could get them off the island. GAWF would cover the cost of the removal and transportation. Working in partnership with ESPI, we submitted a full report to the Public Prosecutor in Rhodes, detailing the condition of the animals and calling for their confiscation and the closure of the ‘zoo’. The case was finally addressed in 2018 when the Prosecutor did as we asked, issuing the order for the animals to be handed over into ESPI’s care.
The rescue mission
It took a longer than we thought to coordinate the removal of the zoo animals from Kasos. Winter storms forced us to cancel the trip on more than one occasion, but in mid May 2019 our team of 4 arrived on the island and took charge of all of them. One – a young donkey – was immediately adopted by a private individual on Kasos, and the rest were taken by sea to Crete and then on to Piraeus. There was an unexpected addition to the group… in the shape of a new-born mule! One of the standard-sized ponies had given birth a few days before we got to the island but although we were asked to, we didn’t agree to leave mother and baby behind. All the animals were seen by a vet on arrival and new homes were immediately organised for the two birds. The equidae were taken to ESPI’s stables in Markopoulo, outside Athens.
A safe haven
It has been a long road for the Kasos ‘zoo’ animals but we’re glad to have played a part in securing better lives for them. Our generous supporters responded to an online appeal in May 2019 and through this we have been able to help ESPI provide for the ongoing care of the ponies, donkey and baby mule as they are cared for in Markopoulo, waiting for the chance of being adopted and going to a responsible and loving ‘forever home’.
We will continue to follow them… and tell their stories.
We all had some anxious moments because of this young lady. She wasn’t at all sure about being loaded into a lorry again for the short trip to the racetrack vets, but she’s back at ESPI now and seems to be on the mend.
A few days after her arrival in Markopoulo, one of the young Shetland mares was found to be suffering from a severe case of colic. As she was not responding to routine treatment and her condition was worsening, ESPI arranged for her to be seen by vets at the nearby national racetrack. With her life clearly in danger, they generously offered their services and admitted her to their facilities where they carried out life-saving surgery to clear a blockage in her bowel. At the time of writing, the little mare is showing every sign of making a full recovery.