Seeing an endangered black vulture released back into nature. Watching a sick badger being nursed back to health. Rescuing paralyzed seagulls or helping a traumatized family of pond turtles.These are the rewards that Vera Marques and her team at RIAS (Wildlife Recovery and Research Centre) fight for every day. As the only facility of its kind on the Algarve, they look after more than 3,000 animals a year.
There’s no doubt this dedicated team of six (with help gratefully accepted from their loyal volunteers) has its hands full, but to say they love what they do is an understatement.
I meet Vera Marquez at the centre, which is ideally located in Quinta de Marim on the banks of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Largely responsible for RIAS’s environmental education programmes, its social media and marketing, Vera says, that being a small team they all chip in to do whatever is necessary.
“I know a lot of people romanticise what we do as kind of just cuddling with wild animals, but actually it’s much more than that,” she laughs. “You can imagine with around 100 animals in our facility each day there’s a lot of cleaning and feeding to be done!”
In a nutshell, she says, the main purpose of RIAS is “the recovery, rehabilitation, release and research of wildlife”.
The centre, formerly known as the CRA (Bird Recovery Centre), was taken over by the non-profit Aldeia Association in October 2009 with financial support from ANA – Airports of Portugal through Faro Airport.
It now partners with various universities providing excellent research opportunities for students, as well as running numerous environmental education programmes to highlight the importance of conservation and biodiversity.
At its heart is the wildlife hospital where injured animals are received, treated and rehabilitated before, hopefully, being released back into their natural habitats.
The majority of their ‘patients’ are birds, but Vera says they also treat reptiles and mammals. “The species we see most are seagulls, obviously because we are on the coast, but also because they have a tendency to accumulate toxins in their body which causes paralysis,” she explains. “Thankfully up to 90% recover and can be returned to nature.”
Hedgehogs, chameleons and rabbits also feature strongly. Just recently they were called to rescue a malnourished badger from the marina in Faro. It is now recovering well in the hospital.
“Lately we have also been getting a lot of pond turtles, because people wrongly think it’s okay to have them as pets when they should be in the wild,” says Vera. “There are also cases of people releasing exotic turtles into the wild which upsets the balance of the wild species.”
Occasionally they have the privilege of working with critically-endangered or vulnerable species, like the rare black vulture they nursed back to health last year. “It was so amazing to see it recovering and then released back into its natural environment,” says Vera. “That was definitely a highlight for us.”
They have also worked with ospreys, eagle owls and flamingoes, not to mention rescuing birds that have been kept in illegal captivity by poachers.
“Every animal we release makes a huge difference to our conservation efforts and to the environment we all live in.”
Sadly, they also deal with dead animals of priority species in order “to try to understand the causes of death and determine risk factors for wild populations”.
As their website states: “If recovery work has an immediate impact on the welfare and survival of every animal that passes through the RIAS, this work, coupled with environmental research and education and community awareness, in particular younger generations, could have a global impact on the conservation of wild animal populations and species, not only in the Ria Formosa, but throughout the country.”
Obviously, funding is always cause for concern and while they do get assistance from Faro Airport, Algarve city councils and the government, public help is always warmly welcomed.
Private, company and schools’ sponsorships are available and there is also the opportunity for donations – either monetary or in kind. “You can imagine how much cleaning material and food we need,” says Vera. “Every little bit counts.”
Volunteers are also vital to the centre’s survival. “We are lucky to currently have amazing volunteers who have been with us for almost a year on various internship projects. They are essential to our work – I think I mentioned how much food needs to be prepared and poop cleaned up,” she laughs.
IF YOU FIND A WOUNDED WILD ANIMAL
Avoid disturbing it as much as possible, minimizing noise, handling time and contact with people. You must not keep the animal in your possession longer than is strictly necessary and never stay with a wild animal with the intention of retrieving it. An animal that is kept too long in captivity will lose the possibility of surviving in its natural habitat, becoming unable to fly, hunt or defend itself properly. For proper collection and rapid delivery in the RIAS of an injured animal, different procedures must be followed according to their ability, confidence and willingness to capture and transport the animal.
If you feel safe enough to manipulate the animal, approach it cautiously and capture it using a towel, garment or blanket to cover the animal’s head (avoids visual stimuli, calming it). Pay close attention to the beak/snout and claws so as not to be hurt.
Place the animal in a perforated cardboard box, preferably only slightly larger than it is. If you don’t have a box, wrap the towel around the animal to limit your movements to protect it and yourself. Until delivery, keep the animal in a calm, dark and warm place, but remember that you should not keep the animal in your possession longer than is strictly necessary and should only provide first aid if you are aware of correct procedures.
If you are unable to transport the animal to the RIAS, deliver it to the local GNR post, where the animal will be collected by the ICNF through nature guards.
If you are unable to transport the animal to the RIAS, contact the closest GNR post:
||282 420 750
||289 410 490
||282 440 290
||289 887 603
||289 590 790
||281 329 030
If you are can take it to RIAS, before 9am or after 6pm, the address is RIAS/ALDEIA, Av. Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, Quinta de Marim, telephone 927 659 313
Words: Debbie Reynolds