Summer 2019: I become aware of the existence of 3 monkeys in the possession of a couple in Kiato, who rescue non-human animals and who would like the monkeys to go to a more suitable place, since, after years of coexistence, the male and female mated, and they had to separate the male from the female so that this would not happen again (these animals lived before rescued by this couple, in parrot cages, in miserable conditions). I am informing the person who told me about the case, where to turn to, for assistance, with the transfer process and all the paperwork, after I contacted the Dutch organization Stichting AAP (in which I have worked in the past as a wildlife caretaker and I trust their work), to make sure that they can accept them. A similar procedure was followed with another monkey confiscated in 2017 by a car repair shop in Koropi, which was successfully transferred to the same rescue center in the Netherlands, in 2018.

Autumn 2019: The man who told me about the case did not turn to the people I suggested to him for help. So, in October I find myself asking the liaison officer of the Dutch center, for contact in Greece, (since in the case of the monkeys from Koropi, I was not the one who took care of the bureaucracy) because the couple who wanted to give the animals a better future, did not find anyone on the phone when they called the CITES office in Greece (which is the first authority to address these cases). At this stage, we are trying with Madame Bombolaki to arrange for a baboon from Chania to leave together with the 3 monkeys, for whom many complaints have been made in the past to the Panhellenic Federation for the Environment and the Animals (PFPO), an individual that was confiscated only on paper because the authorities did not know (why didn’t they ask anyone?) where to turn to for this species, so the unsuitable holder had been appointed the guardian, and the baboon was still living in the unsuitable environment (a common phenomenon in Greece). So, I get an email from the Dutch center’s communications manager and there begins the journey of an endless electronic (and sometimes telephone) communication that takes months (if only we knew that it would take up to 2.5 years).

Winter 2020: I am leaving Greece, hence, I ask for the help of Ms. Alexandra Dimopoulou, a tireless activist who also fights for all non-human animals, and lives in Patras, for the process, as we had assumed that at some point the Patras forestry service would have to get involved since the 3 monkeys lived somewhere near Patras. This move proved to be a lifesaver because Alexandra has patience and diplomacy that I do not have and in no case would all this have been achieved without her help. In the meantime, after many calls and some e-mails, the CITES office had called the Dutch veterinary authorities to ask what needs to be done (…) and asked from us to answer some questions about the species of animals, etc.

Spring 2020: We are given a new contact person for the CITES document but due to the pandemic everything freezes.

Autumn 2020: The Dutch have been back since July willing to move the animals in September, asking if we have any news from the CITES office. The questions start with the new person in the CITES office, and we start again from the beginning with Alexandra having to explain the whole story…

In the meantime, there is a third case of possession of a primate elsewhere in Greece – but after a little investigation, it ends up freezing because it seems that the owner had all the necessary paperwork and the local veterinary service decided that after some recommendation to just better the living conditions of this primate, it would be OK. 

Seeing that the process is slowing down again, we involve another person from the CITES office, who instead of helping, slowed down the process even more. Alexandra has now brought to the “team” a lawyer, Mrs. Elena Arvaniti, and has also already gone to the Patras Forestry service which asks her to send an official request to the Ministry of Environment for the transport of animals, but to which the official scientific name of the species must be written which urged her to find a University Professor biologist, whom she finds immediately so this is solved on the spot. Alexandra sends the request in November but she gets no answer and ends up going back and forth by phone, between Forestry and the CITES office.

(I have now returned to Greece) and I ask for help from a person involved in the case of the transfer of the first monkey, from Koropi, to advise me how to push the process and the advice was to inform the senior of the Forest department in the ministry, but the e-mail I send is not getting any answer.

However, at the same time, a request is made for the removal of the baboon in Chania, by the lawyer, together with a request for the decision to confiscate the said animal.

** The possibility has arisen for the baboon to leave immediately and go quickly to the Netherlands to be included in a group with other baboons who in 2021 will all go together to a shelter in England.

But of course, in Greece, these things do not happen.  The request for confiscation is not accepted and “since the baboon lives there for so many years, why travel now in the Netherlands” and “have you ever heard of wild animals traveling” – said a person from the Chania Forestry. The owner of the baboon now refuses to cooperate (at one point he said that he agrees to give away the animal) and emphasizes that he will do something only if asked by the Forest department in the Ministry, according to the advice of his lawyer. The police referred the matter to the prosecutor but the prosecutor’s office says that there is nothing she can do because the person at the Chania Forestry deems that there is no reason for the transfer to take place.

I ask the Dutch shelter to send a letter again saying that the baboon can travel despite her age and that it’s important for her mental health and well-being to leave. The letter analyzes the importance of the coexistence of primates with individuals of their species, etc. We forward the document to the competent authorities.

Winter-Spring 2021: The CITES office asks the veterinarian of Corinth to go and assess the living conditions of the animals and then to decide IF the animals shall indeed leave… The time passes and this only happens around the end of March, after a phone call by the Director of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food, held in early March. The Corinth Veterinary, fortunately for us, is writing an autopsy that explains why the animals need to be transported to the rescue center in the Netherlands. The report is sent to the Patras Forestry on 2/4 and the CITES office prepared finally the documents on 10/5.

Meanwhile, absolute secrecy from Chania, they do not send to our lawyer the autopsy performed by the police, veterinary, and Forestry. The Director of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food has asked for help from the head of the Forestry, who was also cooperative and direct, but again we had to ask from Stichitng AAP for another document, which shows their intention to receive the baboon…

By now I feel very embarassed for all this time that has passed, for the documents that I ask from them again and again, and for all this chaos that prevails with the Greek bureaucracy. The head of the Forest department in the ministry sends an urgent letter to Chania, and then calls the baboon owner himself, but in the end – because the veterinary autopsy states that everything is fine and leads to the lifting of the confiscation, we lose this case. Another attempt is made by the head of the Forest department in June, but again with no result.

Summer 2021: A difficult journey begins again, for TRACES this time, and at the same time a knowledgeable veterinarian must be found, sedate the animals for the transport, arrange their microchips, etc. It was said that they would send someone from Stichitng AAp to take care of that. They even wanted to send a journalist to come along to make a mini-documentary on that case, but restrictions due to Covid, cancel the plans.

I call 3 different veterinarians with knowledge on exotic animals, but they all declared ignorance on primates, referring me to the veterinarians of the Attica Zoological Park.

Autumn 2021: Once again we have been stuck in the CITES office, regarding TRACES documents this time, but this is overcomed thanks to another Director at the Ministry of Rural Development and Food. Transport crates are sent from the Netherlands to Attika zoological park, they communicate with the veterinarian in Corinth who wrote the autopsy, asking hom to prepare the TRACES, but suddenly the issue freezes by the Netherlands this time, because their quarantine is full, due to a sudden rescue of many raccoons.

June 2022: The Dutch shelter can receive the 3 animals, and they book a flight for 7/6. We contact the veterinarian in Corinth to ask for the TRACES documents, he prepares them (with some mishaps of course). The veterinarians of Attika park arrange with a caregiver to go to for the anesthesia and prepare the animals on 6/6, and all goes well.. The animals left on 7/6 and arrived safely at the Dutch rescue center at 23.00. Of course, we “had a mini stroke” the morning before the monkeys left, together with Alexandra, since we were asked for the precious CITES document by the people in Attika park, because we had received it electronically so it was not in the file with the documents given in person on site with animals. But thanks to my good organizational skills, the document was found quickly, so we breathed again.

To sum up, I would like to express my appreciation first of all to Alexandra Dimopoulou and Elena Arvaniti. Then to my family friend who prefers that her name is not mentioned, but without her contribution (she brought me in contact with the people in the management positions of the Ministry), the good intention and the immediacy of these managers, the issue would be still pending. Also, a big thumbs up to the people who cared for these animals for so many years, for whom they had constructed really good enclosures, and put their ‘ego’ behind, wanting the best for the animals, looking to find a suitable place for them. Also, I would like to thank the veterinarians and the caretaker of Attika zoological park, for their cooperation and professionalism.

Disclaimer: It took me 3.5 hours to review the e-mails that I have in my relevant folder, and I got upset and angry again while remembering all these obstacles. The worst thing is that even now, I do NOT know what the procedure is to be followed, to whom I can refer to, in a similar case. I would like to try again for the 2 cases, which were thought to be OK by clueless local veterinary authorities – people who have no idea about primates – but I do not have the mental capacity to do that again, since I was recently diagnosed with burn out so I have decided to take a long break from animal rescue and activism, until I feel better again.

However, if anyone wants to get involved in a similar case, and goes to a local veterinarian, the only thing that’s for sure it’s that they will not succeed. So how can wild exotic animals be rescued in Greece, to go abroad to suitable shelters that have the know-how, if you do not have the luck to know someone who knows someone, who happens to be able to move the gears of the state, which hinder any rescue?

I suppose my question will be let unanswered.

Elisabeth Dimitras

*Translated by Ilias Tamisis from Respond Crisis Translation team*