Future of Olhão’s wildlife rehabilitation centre at risk
RIAS – the only wildlife rehabilitation and study centre of its kind in the south of Portugal, treating over 1,600 wild animals every year – is at risk of closing as vital funding which accounts for half of its yearly budget could be cut as soon as September.
The centre, based in the Ria Formosa Natural Park in Olhão, needs around €80,000 per year to function. Half of this sum is provided by ANA Airports, initially as a “compensatory measure” following the expansion of Faro Airport.
However, in 2017, the airport authority stopped being legally required to donate the money to RIAS. Luckily for the centre, an agreement was reached and ANA continued supporting the centre voluntarily.
But whether the donation will be made again this year is still uncertain.
“We still do not know if ANA will continue helping us. We will only know in September,” RIAS collaborator Sofia Costa told the Resident.
If ANA does decide to stop supporting the centre, RIAS will be dealt a huge blow.
“We are going to apply for the state’s Environmental Fund, but the maximum amount we could receive is €20,000. It would not be enough to compensate what we may lose from ANA,” she explained.
Funding, or the lack of it, is a “constant concern” for the centre, Sofia Costa told us.
RIAS is based in facilities provided by the National Nature and Forest Conservation Institute (ICNF) in the heart of the naturally stunning Ria Formosa estuary.
With money always a scarce commodity, the centre relies on donations from companies and animal lovers who value the essential work of RIAS.
“For example, Makro provides us with food for the animals, such as meat which is no longer fit for human consumption. Fishermen from Olhão also give us fish,” said the RIAS collaborator.
Monetary donations can also be made or, instead, people can choose to sponsor one of the animals in RIAS’ care.
The centre also relies on volunteer work, although there is always interest from people keen to help.
Indeed, RIAS needs all the help it can get as lately it has been “busier than ever before,” with more tourist and foreign residents aware of its existence.
University study on microplastics thanks to RIAS
The centre treats between 1,600 and 1,800 animals on average every year. Thus far this year, RIAS has already treated 1,260 animals.
Around 90% of the animals are birds such as seagulls, storks, owls and sparrows, but the centre also treats hedgehogs, bats, lizards and other wild animals.
At the moment, the centre is filled to the brim with 180 “residents”.
According to Sofia Costa, around 48% of the animals that arrive at the centre survive and are returned to the wild. It is a percentage that she says “may seem low at first” but that is actually quite good considering how much more difficult it is to treat wild animals.
“Sometimes they arrive in a very bad shape. Plus, they are wild animals, they are not used to human contact and it is not as easy to diagnose what their problems are.”
Most of the animals that recover and are returned to the wild are released in Ria Formosa and RIAS always insists on inviting the person who took the animal to the centre to be present when the animal is released.
A lot of research is also carried out at the centre, which collaborates with several other entities.
Recently, the University of the Algarve used the test results obtained at the centre to carry out a study about the amount of microplastics found in the stomachs of birds.
“We have also been working hard on environmental education, visiting schools to teach children about the importance of protecting the environment and wildlife,” Sofia told us.
When to contact RIAS
If someone finds an injured wild animal in the Algarve, or even in the Lower Alentejo, it can be taken to RIAS.
People can take the animals themselves or alert the GNR police instead. If they attempt to transport the animals themselves, they are encouraged to contact RIAS first for advice.
The recommended course of action is putting the animal in a perforated cardboard box, trying at the same time to keep human contact to a minimum to avoid causing the animal stress. Please ensure the animal is able to breathe.
How you can donate
RIAS is always grateful for donations of much-needed items which are used every day at the centre.
Among the most used items are cleaning supplies (bleach, detergent, mops etc.), old towels and blankets and old newspapers.
Even dog food is useful as it can be fed to some of the animals in the centre’s care.
Many other donations would be welcomed by RIAS. Those interested in helping are encouraged to contact the centre, where all employees and volunteers speak English.
RIAS is managed by the ALDEIA association since 2009. It boasts a team of seven employees, including one veterinarian, biologists, an environmental specialist, a bird specialist and a tourism specialist.
There are also seven volunteers currently helping out, some of them from other parts of Europe.
RIAS can be contacted by telephone or email. There is also a website with a wealth of information available in Portuguese as well as English.
927 659 313
IBAN: PT50 0035 0555 0004 8770 8302 8