Tale of dormice, wildlife refugees and woodcutters

THESSALONIKI – Not long ago, a woodcutter in a forest near Rodopoli, Serres, in northern Greece, was cutting down a tree when he accidentally killed a tiny animal. The creature, which looked like a squirrel, had been standing a few centimeters away from the entrance to its nest when it was struck by the chain saw. The woodcutter saw its five newborn young, and was moved by the thought that the animal had sacrificed itself for its children. Realizing that the newly born creatures had no way of fending for themselves, he wrapped them up in his shirt and took them with him. He put the little animals in a box and sent them by bus to Thessaloniki, just as a friend of his had once done with a wounded stork. «They are not squirrels; they’re not mice. They are fat dormice,» exclaimed Eirini, when she collected the box at the Wildlife Refuge in Thessaloniki. It was the first time in three-and-a-half years that the refuge had received such tiny visitors, and the staff weren’t even sure how to feed them. One of the volunteers explained: «It is one of the smallest mammals in the Balkans. If bears, which are one of the largest mammals, get saved, why shouldn’t we save the smallest ones?» Eirini went to work. The little ones fitted into the palm of her hand. Their eyes were still closed and their skin so transparent that milk could be seen in their stomachs after they were fed. «To tell the truth, I didn’t expect them to survive,» she says later. Two days after arriving at the center, the smallest one died. When the others opened their eyes, they began to display the characteristics of their species: Furry tail, long whiskers, large canines on the lower jaw, and grayish fur on the back and white fur on the belly. This type of dormouse looks and eats like a squirrel, but it is nocturnal. It climbs tree trunks and branches with the help of its nails and adhesive paws. These particular ones belong to the species Glis glis pindicus, which is common to Greek forests. It is related to Glis glis argenteus, which lives on Crete, and is becoming increasingly rare. Their greatest enemies are man, deforestation, ferrets, owls and cold winters. Rearing the animals at the refuge was difficult, but the story came to a happy end. Goat’s milk, regular feeding and the attentions of Eirini and the other volunteers saved their lives. Recently, refuge volunteers released the four dormice into the forest at Rodopoli, scattering apples and hazel nuts nearby. A few days later they returned to the site to find the apples and nuts had been eaten. Proposed legislation that would limit constitutional guarantees giving judges and prosecutors the right to appeal to the Supreme Court plenary session in cases such as overlooked promotion and disciplinary proceedings, was strongly criticised yesterday by Members of the Union of Magistrates and Prosecutors. Unionists said guarantees should be reinforced to allow judges to fulfill their constitutional role and protect civil rights.