Hello, I am Aina. My husband and I arrived from Norway together with 3 cats almost 10 years ago, just to discover that the house was all ready inhabited by 2 feral dogs. That was the start. Many animals in need has become Citizens after that. Today we have cats, dogs, rabbits, minipigs, parrots, budgies, ducks, hens, geese, goats and sheep. We try to do our bit to help animals in need. Luckily we have a big house and 4 hectares of land.
CRAS – Centro Recupero Animali Selvatici
What happens when wild animals need help?
One of Italia’s Wildlife Rescue centres is situated in Bernezzo (Piedmont). What used to be a small zoo has today been transformed into a wildlife hospital and rehabilitation centre. The centre has 1.5 employees (one full-time and one part-time; the rest is done by volunteers, including two veterinarians. The centre is not open to the public, but you can call them 24/7 if you find an injured or ill wild animal.
The first animals arrived in the year 2000, but officially they didn’t become an Association until 2001. Now the centre handles about 1200 animals a year. Most of these are deer, swallows and tortoises, but everything from falcons, wild boars, badgers and nutrias come in. The hedgehogs have gotten their own hospital in Novello and the turtles and tortoises have gotten themselves an enclosed lake in a nearby village. Of the animals that arrive 50% will be released back to the wild. 25% will need to stay in the centre because their injuries make it impossible for them to be released back to the wild. Unfortunately, the last 25% do not survive. The reason that so many do not survive is the amount of time it takes before the animal is found and/or before the animal gets brought into the right institution for the right treatment.
Before an animal is released back into the wild, the centre makes sure it is as safe as possible. This includes not only making sure the animal is in optimal health, but also that its natural instinct to avoid humans will be as good as possible. Depending on what kind of animal it is, this will be done in different ways.
Birds will be put in a big cage, where they will have to prove that they can both fly and eat on their own.
Deer will be released into an enclosed area consisting of more than 15 hectares of land. They will be spending a year there, before they are allowed to move on, but during this year they will have minimal contact with humans, and have to find their own food.
Small mammals, like squirrels and stoats (weasels) will be released into a nearby national park. The release spots are monitored with wildlife cameras, to make sure they are as safe as possible for the animal in question.
Most animals that get released manage fine, and do not need any more help from the centre. Of course there are exceptions. A magpie and a falcon still consider the centre as their home, and come home every night to roost and maybe pick up the occasional snack…
For me, the biggest surprise was how many exotic animals they had. Especially parrots and turtles. Most of these had been confiscated from breeders or pet stores due to maltreatment, but animals had also been taken from people who had bought the animal in good faith. Dogs and cats are not the only animals that are smuggled in from countries abroad and then have their documents falsified. So, if you are in the market for a parrot, make sure you buy from a proper breeder who cares about the animal and has all the documents in order. If you do get caught with a tortoise or parrot without the correct documentation you will be fined, even if you bought the animal in good faith.
Turtles and tortoises were something they had a lot of. Some because they had outgrown their welcome and become too big and therefore been dumped by irresponsible people. A turtle will not survive well when released into rivers and streams.
Still most turtles and tortoises they got arrived in big numbers, seized from breeders and pet stores. After one attempt at smuggling tortoises in from Tunisia was thwarted, customs brought in 200 to the centre. These were fortunate enough to actually be sent back to Tunisia where they were released back into the wild. Unfortunately, authorities only manage to catch a very few of the animals that are victims of this trade and, of these, very few are able to be sent back to where they came from. That is the reason why the centre has both racoons and monkeys living there. Since they can never be released into Italian nature, they will have to live out their lives at the centre.
Of the 4 monkeys they had there, one had been found in the forest, 2 had been dumped outside their gate in a box one night and the third was seized after being found on a balcony, where it spent its life tied up in a harness. These monkeys had all been smuggled into Italy. When they grow up it’s soon obvious that they are far from the perfect pet they people thought they would be. All four of these monkeys had attitude problems as a result of their previous life. They were all considered dangerous.
The centre also had 4 nutrias living there. These nutrias are the lucky ones, though, as they will be able to live out their lives in the centre, whereas the other nutrias face being shot, as they are not welcomed into the Italian countryside. What arrived in Italy to be a part of the fur trade has instead become a threat to the local wildlife. The nutrias at the centre were therefore all neutered.
So what do you do if you find an injured wild animal in Italy?
By law, you are obliged to help any animal in need, wild or domestic, and if you are caught not doing so, you will be fined.
If you do find a wild animal in need of help, first of all, be sure it is actually in need of help. If you find a baby deer or baby hare, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is abandoned. Wait and see if the mum will come back to it, as this is normal for these animals. If you know it needs help, try to catch it. Get it isolated, preferably somewhere dark where it can be left alone to avoid as much stress as possible. Then, get in touch with the closest CRAS (Centro Recupero Animali Selvatici). If you don’t know where that is, call your comune, local ASL vet, local vet, corpo forestale or the carabineri. You can also try www.recuperoselvatici.it They should all be able to point you in the right direction. When you get in touch with the closest centre they will let you know what to do in that situation. If it is a bird, or small mammal they will most likely highly appreciate if you can transport it to them, as they are pressed for time, personnel and funds. Do as they tell you, as they really do know best. Please feel free to call them and check up on the animal to see how it is doing.
So to recap, if you find a wild animal:
• Does it need assistance?
• If possible, secure the animal, if not try to keep an eye on it.
• If caught, cover it up in a dark and calm place to avoid more stress than necessary. Just make sure it has more than enough air to breath.
• Get in touch with the nearest CRAS recuperoselvatici.it, commune, ASL vet, corpo forestale, carabinieri can help you get the right number
• Do as the CRAS tell you to do
Several CRAS, including this centre, have programs for schoolkids. Here the kids learn about different animals, their habitat and how to respect it. If you are a teacher or have children, I believe this is a very good idea for an outing. The program they have in Bernezzo has gotten very good feedback from both kids, teachers and parents.
The CRAS in Bernezzo has their main office in an old small abandonded chapel (I never would have guessed, if I wasn’t told so). They currently need 80,000 euro a year to manage to make the wheels go around. This is a minimum, and this sum will increase with the new turtle and tortoise park. Before the government and region contributed with 20,000 a year (and this is for CRAS in general), but with the current political situation these funds were not given out last year; but they hope they will arrive this year. The rest of the money they will have to find through membership, donations, 5/1000 (via Italian income tax donations) and sponsorships. Whereas, further south, several CRAS have been able to do great things with the help of sponsorships; things like satellite tracking, which is more or less non-existent up north, as there is no culture for it, and money is really tight. Two local CRAS have already had to close down, and then what happens to the animals in need? So please if you can, go into their page at centrorecuperoselvatici.it or your local CRAS, and see how you can contribute to keep the Italian wildlife safe.