Disoriented by wildfires, migrating storks die crossing Greece

People in Athens ‘picking up dead storks from their lawns’, says head of wildlife association, as fires continue to ravage country.
Hellenic Wildlife Care Association ANIMA President Maria Ganoti holds a stork affected from a wildfire north of Athens, at ANIMA's first-aid centre, in Athens, Greece, August 8, 2021 [Louiza Vradi/Reuters]

Migrating storks crossing through Greece on their way to Africa have fallen victim to the wildfires raging across the country for the past week, becoming disoriented by the flames and getting lost, injured or killed, wildlife groups said.


Every year, storks cross the Attica region around Athens, heading for Cape Sounion about 70km (45 miles) southeast of the capital where they wait for favourable winds to help carry them across the Mediterranean into Africa for the winter.


“Unfortunately, they were passing at the time of the fire,” said Maria Ganoti, president of the Hellenic Wildlife Care Association ANIMA, which nurses and rehabilitates wild animals at its first aid centre in Athens.


She said for the past three days storks were being found in “places where they would never have been, like in Vrilissia, in Halandri, on the apartment buildings,” referring to two residential areas in northern Athens.


In the unfamiliar urban terrain, some of the birds have become confused and large numbers have died after crashing into power lines and electricity pylons.


“It is the first time we have had so many dead storks in Athens,” she said. “People in Athens are picking up dead storks from their lawns.”


ANIMA’s first-aid centre has treated a number of storks, which Ganoti said will be released into the wild when they are strong enough.


But the birds represent only a small part of the suffering experienced by animals, both wild and domesticated, in the fires which have devastated thousands of acres of forest.


“Some of the animals that are here will die. The turtles for example, if they have inhaled a lot of smoke and have been burned internally they will not be able to eat and they will die, you can’t do anything about that.”