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Rusko Petrov – the doctor of the high fliers

I have a degree in veterinary medicine and I am a veterinarian. For eight years I have been the executive manager of the wildlife rescue center “Green Balkans”. I became a volunteer 11 years ago, and I have been working here for 10 years. For 21 years I have been unconditionally involved in the Rescue Center, every day.

Pelican Gruyu arrived here in 1998, and I came a year later. Dr. Goranov from the University of Thrace already did surgery on his wing. When I was a night shift, the pelican Gruju and the dog Strandza often slept with me in the room during the cold nights. It was obvious that Gruju was in love with Strandja and he was constantly courting her. He felt like a host and was welcoming all the guests in the Center, but he had a special affinity for watches and pocket cameras. He is good-natured, but if any of the visitors become careless, Gruyu has already taken his camera or watch. After playing for an hour, he would spat them out. Gruyu remains a living legend of the Center.

Ever since I was little, I wanted to become a veterinarian. I grew up in a village with my grandparents where there were animals. We had 230 sheep on our farm, and while I was studying to become a veterinary technician, my desire was to treat and care for sick animals.

rusko petrov doktorot na visokite letachi galerija2 1Currently my hobby is climbing mountain peaks. I have climbed the highest peaks in 23 countries, including a climb to the second base of mountain Everest.

My son has always been by my side since he was 2-3 years old. Now, at the age of 10, he is one of the active volunteers. After school he gets on his bicycle and arrives all by himself. Sometimes his friends come too, but when I let them do something, they never come back.

The pleasure of petting a bird is only 2% of the work you need to do before that. You have to get dirty in order to feed the bird, the cage needs to be cleaned, and that seems disgusting to today’s young people. It is difficult with the volunteers as well – they do not want to work.

In the night shifts, he is by my side and assists me on a quite good professional level. Probably when we are together, I do not feel that I miss my family. My wife fully supports me and often accompanies me, and now we have our 11-month-old son here.

When I was 16, I hitchhiked and then walked to a place to feed vultures in order to do wildlife work. I only had 2 quilts to sleep on in the back of the dormitory where I lived. Now the conditions are different – we have jeeps, tents, money for business trips, sleeping bags, everything. And when we make some project we cannot gather fans to carry it out. In order to come and get the job done, they first start with party plans.

I am very attached to the Misho the hawk, with whom I have been working for 7-8 years. He is my friend and our feelings are mutual. We both go to kindergartens and nurseries, I am calm with him because I know he would never hurt a child. My son, on the other hand, often works with Vlatko who is a black-tailed kestrel, and in Bulgaria we also call them kerknez. They are one of the smallest falcon species in the country. The bird is lighter and more suitable for my son or to work with children. They are wild animals. They always want to fly away, to catch something with their claws, to peck, but the trust we build between man and bird is a long thing, it takes about 10 years, there is still this wild thing somewhere within. It is difficult, it requires a lot of work…

When I was appointed manager, we were a team of 3-4 people. Currently are 14 permanent people. We have developed the Center a lot in the last 10 years. There are currently 300 birds in this base alone, and a total of about 400 in both bases. Many years ago, when I was a volunteer, we cared for 8 birds. We have a total of 14 doctors. We admit a large number of owls, storks, herons, waterfowls, rarely vultures, eagles. We take care of the whole range of biodiversity in the country – from sparrows to vultures. So far we have 1,726 patients and last year we admitted 1,890.

We manage to reintroduce back to nature between 40 and 60% of the birds. Those we cannot, we redirect to 16 zoos and zoos points in Bulgaria and in specialized centers in Europe. We leave one part in the visitor section, while the other part goes for breeding in the Center. A very small percentage, about 15-20 birds, we euthanize, these are the ones for whom we are unable to find a second home.

Today we will release 2 kestrel, a white-tailed hawk and a common hawk. The kestrels were brought to the Center as orphans and we gave them to our disabled couples to raise and when they grow up we will release them. The white-tailed hawk also came to us very young and we waited for all its feathers to grow.

We are working on various projects: for the black vulture, the Egyptian vulture, and this year for the white-tailed kestrel, as well as for the falcon. I am also on duty in the ambulance. I constantly consult the veterinarians in the Center, as well as the seasonal workers. I work with 150 interns, volunteers and apprentices. I manage the only Wildlife Rescue Squad in Bulgaria, which consists of 53 people.

The rescue center requires commitment. Sometimes in the summer I work until 10 pm. The frequent absence from the family is the next personal sacrifice, but the efforts and sacrifices deserve it.

Spotted clicker. He is wounded. The bullet in his wing broke two bones and he will remain disabled for the rest of his life, so he will live with us.

In the summer I usually take care of the little ones that have fallen from the nests, the birds with fractures of wings and legs, and there are many birds that have been burned by the electricity transmission grid and, of course, from shooting. When the hunting season begins, no matter the game, the Center immediately gets crowded. The large birds such as pelicans, storks, herons, eagles – everything is shot. There are mass shootings and poaching is widespread in our country. And last but not least, we have the issue of birds poisoning. In 2017, out of 40 vultures, 32 were poisoned in the Kresna gorge so almost the whole colony died. The lack of culture, the consumerist thinking and the lawlessness lead to shocking cases of cruelty to animals in our country.

Today we performed osteosynthesis surgery on a large hawk. Both wing bones were broken. During the surgery, we put two screws inside which we will take out on the 21st day, because it takes around 20 days at the birds to completely heal. It will take 2 months of rehabilitation of the bird and then she will be reintroduced in the nature, where she belongs.

We are the only legal Animal Rescue Center in the country. We mainly admit birds, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles, turtles, squirrels, otters, poles and hedgehogs, iguanas. We avoid large mammals, as we have not yet created a basis for their rehabilitation.

rusko petrov doktorot na visokite letachi galerija8 1We also have difficult rehabilitations, where the birds stay with us for 5-6 months, and sometimes more. We have a white-tailed eagle that we had pelvic surgery on. It is a very specific and difficult operation. I do not think that any other place has actually performed such an operation on the pelvis, after which the bird was released. This bird is currently in rehabilitation, about a year and a half.

We release our birds in the “Bulgarka” and “Vitosha” parks of nature. There, together with our colleagues, we built large and open cages for flying birds. We work together with all our colleagues on saving nature and its biodiversity.

Depending on the season and the number of patients, we consume 40 to 120 kilograms of food per day. In summer we sometimes have over 600 birds. They eat meat – horse and beef, lamb and goat, because we avoid chicken and pork. For those who eat cereals we need 15 types of grains. We are preparing wildlife food for the birds that are about to be released.

About 5,000 children come to the Center during the year. It is nice to have the right attitude towards animals from a young age. When they grow up they should know that birds cannot be hunted or that, if a bat enters their house, they should not be killed because they are useful. We use the birds we work with to show the children what are the injuries and why it should not be done.

Today’s education lacks the clubs. Children do not recognize the animals. The disadvantage also comes from the family. It is disastrous when parents raise their children as in an incubator, without any contact with nature. You will not believe it, but future veterinary technicians see a donkey here for the first time in their lives… Maybe in 10 years we will apply for European projects to reintroduce the donkey as an extinct species…

Photo credits and text: Dobrin Kashavelov – Bulgaria