Volunteering to save Grifons – an experience

  • Post category:Travel / Volunteering
  • Reading time:9 mins read

Did not know working can be relaxing

All my life, I never thought of volunteering. Reasons, I do not know; may be it was not just part of the normal. Nevertheless, as I wrote in my previous blog, thanks to randomness, I happened to be a volunteer at Birds of Prey Conservation center at Crnika, Croatla. When I made the first contact on phone, I felt that it would be good. When I met the person, it was clear that it would be an interesting experience. I spent only 1 month at the center, but the experience was really amazing. Especially being my first volunteer assignment it is kind of hard to express.

At Zavizan hut

This project by the name of it is about protection of Eurasion griffon vulture, which is an endangered species in Croatia. Along with griffons, they protect other birds of preys as well. Project lead started this initiative about 25 years back. He committed all is effort to this project and birds. However, while talking to him, I learned that he is not just connected to birds, but birds are only a medium. His main commitment is towards nature and its protection. Be it the birds, islands, water sources, trees and forest or other animals; his idea is to help bring balance to the overall ecosystem of nature. However, using vultures as medium is a challenging task to get support. Biggest reason is the connection between people and these birds. In general people have an image about everything, same is valid for vultures. Through stories, TV and movies, people relate to these birds as ugly birds. With this image, they do not care, if these birds are protected or not. Imagine the difference when one guy comes to you to support for a rabbit, parrot, peacock, bear or even lion vs a vulture. Which one would you support? All other animals have been posed to us as a beautiful, lovable or adoring animals, but not vulture. However, we miss to connect how important they are for the ecosystem to cleanup the dead stock. Apart from Zoroastrians, for others vultures are not so important. If you know about the Tower of Silence, then you know little bit more about these birds. Kudos to the man who kept his commitment for all those years.

How to manage these kids now!!

The thing, I liked the most was the people. Small team, running now only with 2 people. They are struggling with the upset of their establishment which they built for 20 years and had to start again from scratch. Despite the struggle, set-back and challenges, they have enthusiasm that attracts. Commitment to the idea, to the project keeps them going and motivates the people who joins them for short time. In various conversations over the months, I learned a lot about them, the culture, random topics, their history, struggle and future plans. It felt like I was always part of the team and respected the same way. For last 2 years, they have support from the 3rd member, who is long term volunteer and stays for the full season. She takes the commitment to the next level. She is always working for the project, trying small things at the center and off the center, trying to organize, create new ideas. She almost all by herself created German website and facebook page, both of which are managed by her. Even when she is back in her apartment, she keeps thinking about the project, and trying to find ways on how to help the project. I also got a chance to meet a pair from Netherlands. They are the project sponsors with a keen interest in birds and their protection. They visited us very often and always came with some jokes, laughter and a small young pack of energy. With all these people around you cannot help but feel positive. Wonderful people to know and work with.

You want my food, dare come close

The center is although young and small, but situated at beautiful place. Backed by the hills of Velebit with a front view of Adriatic sea and Croatian islands, once can spend few days just for the scenic beauty of it. One may perceive it to be a simple place, but a lot of effort and attachment stands behind every thing around that place. Small welcome hut, project introduction hall, gallery with information about birds and research information from almost 25 years of effort, the butterfly garden, children hut and the Vulture zone. All of these are supported by another two small huts that keeps all the stuff for maintenance and day to day operations of the center. I spent lot of time in the open, enjoying the sun. When “Bura” started to flow, I had to take rescue in the entrance/ticket hut. I could be here protected from the strong wind, while still keeping watch on the tourist. Around the place there are many hiking routes also. One of those is maintained by the center with proper guiding signs installed all through the way to the top.

A migrating bird stopped by us

I do not know how much I was able to contribute the project, but as an individual I got a lot of experience in things that I did not do or know before. I surely learned a lot about the birds. It was made even more beautiful, when you learn from a man who by a single look on the flying bird, can tell you the species, country, migration paths, present extinction status and much more. I got a chance to interact with lot of people from different countries. I happened to talk to visitors from Italy, Czech, France, Germany, Swiss, Hungary, US, Australia and of course Croatians. Mostly I was responsible for people who did not speak any English or other languages that we could cover. This was the case especially with Italians and Czech. Somehow, I managed to communicate the message. By talking to people, even if for a short time, one can find some similarities and differences in different cultures. I learned how to make stone walls with Gabion. Next time I hope, I will fill them better :). From welcome center, to project introduction gallery, visit to vulture zone, I got a chance to cover all part with all kind of tourists. I also got a chance to visit Bear park and Zavizan ( the oldest high altitude weather station in Croatia); thanks to project leads for the trip. I walked a lot through the hiking paths. Before the strong wind started to below, I went back to my apartment hiking through hills, choosing a different path every time. I also became the default guide for the school kids for the hike to the top of the hill. I was always happy to make 2 rounds up the hill with kids. It was a wonderful experience.

Young kids at the top of the hill. They loved it
Where am I going now?

It was a strange feeling when the time came to say goodbye. It looked like a long stay, based on the things I managed to learn and experience, but at the same time a very short one too that it is coming to end. Going to the center every morning kind of became a habit. But all good things comes to an end and so did this. We all went for our last day meal together at Sveti Juraj Riva and had lots of discussions about various topics. A wonderful evening concluded with a “Thank you” note and parting gifts from the project leads. Although, I spent a good time at the center, but I was still not sure how to say goodbye to someone whose commitment of years I came to admire. But when the project lead gave a warm hug as a good bye, I was relaxed and felt that I did make some contribution.

We all shared smiles and at times had some different views as well. But in the long runs the smiles stays with us. The laughter, the activities, the meetings, the talks while waiting for visitors and the guessing of which country is the visitor from, they all will remain in some part of the memory. On last day, it was not all smiles but some heaviness in hearts too. I took leave, but I hope and wish good times for the project, the idea and the people. If anybody looking for volunteer work in Croatia and is connected with the project idea, I would recommend to give a call or just pay a visit. You will meet with a smile, the smile that you carry with you for long. I am sure, I will carry mine and I hope to share it with others.



A new volunteer manager spends a week at her new organisation with the volunteer manager she is replacing. On the last day the departing volunteer manager tells her, “I have left three numbered envelopes in the desk drawer. Open an envelope if you encounter a crisis you can’t solve.”
Three months down the track there is a major drama, everything goes wrong – the volunteers are complaining about lots of things – and the volunteer manager feels very threatened by it all.
She remembers the parting words of her predecessor and opens the first envelope. The message inside says “Blame your predecessor!” She does this and gets off the hook.
About half a year later, the organization is experiencing a huge dip in volunteer recruitment numbers, combined with a lot of volunteers resigning. The manager quickly opens the second envelope. The message reads, “Reorganize, Recognise and Rebuild!” This she does, and the volunteering numbers quickly rebound and improve.
Three months later, at her next crisis, she opens the third envelope.
The message inside says….

“Prepare three envelopes”.