Croatia wildlife centre gets by on love and a pittance

Fri May 4, 2012 10:00am EDT
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By Zoran Radosavljevic

ZAGREB (Reuters) - From afar, the rare visitor can see only the big cages covered with green nets that blend in with the lush local vegetation of hilly northwest Croatia.

It is only when you come closer that you hear the flapping of wings, the screams of hawks and buzzards and the yelping and growling of 11 dogs that watch over the Centre for Protection of Wild Animals.

The centre, one of only two in Croatia that cater for both birds and mammals, is run by a single man on meager government funding -- a feat that regularly impresses his wealthier colleagues from the European Union.

"They just can't believe when I tell them. They ask me: Are you a magician or what?" Zoran Horvat said as he walks the estate, followed by his dogs, to check on the patients.

The tour was interrupted by phone calls from people reporting new sightings of wounded animals - from an owl scratched by a cat to a young bird that fell through a chimney, testifying to the growing scope of work.

Like many former communist countries of eastern Europe, Croatia has a rich wildlife, including wolves and bears, and Horvat said he was glad to notice that environmental awareness was also growing, thanks in part to his efforts.

"The attitude of people towards animals, towards the environment has changed in the last 10 years. They know we are here and they can call us," he said.

Horvat, a salesman whose business collapsed last year, founded the centre in 2003 with his wife, who is a vet at the Zagreb Zoo, as a labor of love to complement his day job.   Continued...