ESC in a centre for the recovery and research of wild animals

Volunteering on a long term EU funded project in Olhão, Portugal - European Solidarity Corps & European Voluntary Service

My name is Fiach, I am currently a volunteer in a small city called Olhão in the south of Portugal under the ‘European Solidarity Corps’ initiative. The ESC is an initiative run by the EU which enables the mobility of European volunteers between the ages of 18-30 to work on projects that serve European communities.

Olhão is a charming and quiet city for much of the year, which makes it an extremely pleasant place to live. It has a strong tourism sector, which it owes to its friendly population, the city’s connection with the Ria Formosa Natural Park, as well as its longstanding connection with the sea and its renowned fisheries sector. At present, I share the experience of living in Olhão with 14 volunteers from all over Europe. In total, we are of nine different nationalities.

I feel very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to experience all that I have so far during my time in Portugal. Many of these experiences come directly from my workplace, which is located within the Ria Formosa Natural Park. I work with an organisation named ‘RIAS’, which is a centre for the recovery and research of wild animals. The primary aim of the centre is to receive wild animals suffering from sickness or injury from all over the Algarve, with the eventual goal of releasing them back to the wild. ‘RIAS’ receives many different types of animals, ranging from birds (seagulls, ducks, owls, raptors and vultures), mammals (hedgehogs, foxes, genettas and bats) and reptiles (chameleons, turtles).

Fiach BYRNE ESC with RIAS animals

The number of animals received at RIAS has been increasing steadily for the past decade, and during 2019, more than 3,000 animals were received by the centre. The work that ‘RIAS’ carries out is integral in safeguarding biodiversity in the Algarve, as well as in the protection of species that are found throughout Portugal and Europe. I really admire my colleagues for the hard work they carry out each day, all to best support the rehabilitation of the wild animals at the centre. I know that I will have been very proud to have contributed to the centre’s work in some small way during my time as a volunteer.

Each week, I usually spend two days in the kitchen, two days in the clinic, and then one day in the visitor’s centre where we speak to visitors about the centre’s work and the importance of nature conservation. In the clinic, we help the veterinary staff in a variety of tasks such as receiving new animals, providing food, water and treatment to animals in the earliest stage of their recovery, as well as maintaining the cleanliness of the facility. In the kitchen we work to prepare specialised diets for the animals, in order to best support their rehabilitation. We further work to renovate and maintain enclosures for the animals. This involves maintaining good levels of hygiene and providing appropriately designed habitat and enrichment for each individual animal.

An extremely rewarding part of the experience is getting to know volunteers from all over Europe, while also getting to grips with the Portuguese culture and doing our best to learn the language. We have also been very fortunate to have the chance to meet even more European volunteers during our on-arrival training which was hosted in Braga. This was a very special week where we all had an amazing time learning about the ESC, our host country and about each other’s projects and cultures.

By the end of my time in Portugal, which is now about four months away, I am still hopeful of making progress with the Portuguese language, exploring much more of the country and continuing to do my best to help the recovery centre.

Fiach BYRNE ESC with RIAS animals recovery centre group work volunteers Fiach BYRNE ESC with RIAS animals Fiach hedgehog


Fiach Byrne

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