Nicosia-based private vet specializes in treating wildlife, but his main obsession is birds
As a child, Constantinos Antoniou watched and counted birds while spending summers on his grandfather’s sheep farm in Deftera, instead of playing football with his peers. A few decades later, he’s learned so much about our feathered friends that he’s now treating them. And it is certainly not child’s play.
“Most birds are difficult cases [to treat] because usually until people bring them in, even though the initial injury was slight, it gets worse because the birds have low stamina and are very sensitive, ”said the 28-year-old veterinarian and owner of the clinic AllPets private vet in Kokkinotrimithia at the Cyprus Mail. .
Antoniou helped treat an imperial eagle during his medical training as an ornithologist in Slovakia, before earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree in 2019, where he also focused on avian medicine.
Then the circumstances, namely a global coronavirus pandemic, brought Antoniou back to Cyprus – struggling to find a job.
In an attempt to continue to follow his passion, he initiated collaborations with BirdLife Cyprus and the Game and Fauna service as a part-time veterinarian at Athalassa Wildlife Hospital.
“Most of the time this is neither profitable nor viable for a professional in the sector,” said Antoniou, explaining that employment opportunities are limited, mainly in large wildlife centers overseas or in local areas. universities. In Cyprus, however, there are no state veterinarians for wildlife.
Snakes, foxes and mouflons are some of Antoniou’s patients, but it is above all the hospital that treats wild birds. The busiest months are May through July during the nesting season, when they could receive dozens of hatchlings that have found themselves outside the nest.
“Birds are an obsession for me. They are the most interesting thing found in Cypriot nature, ”he said.
The mystery surrounding these creatures seems to be another reason Antoniou has a special affection for birds, and primarily raptors. “You really have to try to find them,” he said.
Also early in his career, one of Antoniou’s proudest moments, he said, was breastfeeding one of 17 griffon vultures recorded in Cyprus after a local found him. trapped in the Diarizou valley.
When the rare vulture was brought to his clinic for first aid last year, he was exhausted and had lost a lot of weight.
“The bird was in a tragic state. He was on the verge of death, ”said Antoniou. Thus, he and his team were ready to do anything because they “had nothing more to lose”.
The vulture, who was only a few months old, stayed at the rehabilitation center for a month and a half, during which he was given medication and had to be force-fed to regain his strength, Antoniou said.
“It was very hard,” the vet noted, as the feeding, which took place three times a day, was at least a two-man job.
A recent amputation of the injured hoof of a bighorn sheep was also difficult. Fortunately, the operation was a success and “the mouflons can live with three legs”, explained the veterinarian.
The animal is currently undergoing rehabilitation before being released into the wild, leaving more space for the 60 young falcons and the ten owls still in the hospital.
The majority of wild animals arriving at the hospital are young birds that have fallen from the nest and have been picked up by humans or attacked by cats. The other hospitalized patients concern animals injured by firecrackers or fireworks, collisions with vehicles or birds that hit high-rise buildings and windows.
The vet also revealed that he had seen and treated animals that “shouldn’t be in Cyprus”.
Wildlife trafficking exists in Cyprus “to some extent” according to Antoniou, despite strict legislation against it. “I saw birds and other pets that don’t exist in Cyprus,” he said.
Injuries are also common in this industry, with Antoniou admitting he gets bitten occasionally while feeding birds of prey.
“I was told that I must not like mice because I feed them to owls. But this is only the circle of life. I have treated mice and rats in the past, ”he said.
Despite all the difficulties, Antoniou says he sees his work as a contribution to society and that he is happy to do something that has “an impact on biodiversity, wildlife, nature and … the gene pool of a species.
“Even the smallest bird is important, because the genetic makeup of an owl, of which there are only a few thousand pairs in Cyprus, cannot be compared to that of a Labrador.”