Greece wildlife

“We have this vision to give people extraordinary wildlife experiences, using specialist local guides,” says Chantel Kyriakopoulou-Beuvink, co-founder of our partner Natural Greece. “So we’re using tourism as a way to help nature conservation, but we’re also helping our travellers to connect with the real Greece at the same time.”

Tracking wild animals in Greece is enhanced through the skill and knowledge of local guides, whose abilities are matched only by their passion for these creatures and the wild places they inhabit. They’ll show you how to work out the age of a bear by the size of a footprint, explain how drones are used to study turtle behaviour in fishing harbours, how to identify different types of dolphin, and ensure you see as many birds on your list as you can in a week’s holiday. Through their efforts, the wildlife in Greece may be off in the distance, but it never fades into the background.

Where to see wildlife in Greece

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Wildlife in Greece

Birds of prey

There are 39 raptor species in Europe, and no fewer than 36 of them have been seen in the Dadia Forest. This hilly landscape of oak and pine in Greece’s Evros region provides habitat for rare sea eagles, black vultures, Levant sparrowhawks and golden eagles among many others. Birders will be in their element here, and responsible travel companies such as our partners, and their guides, will make sure the birds are observed in their natural habitat without disturbance.

Brown bears

Greece has around 500 brown bears, mainly in the forested Pindos Mountains, where wildlife charities are helping them reach peace with local communities whose orchards, beehives and goats and sheep they will happily pillage if given the opportunity. But bear watching in Greece isn’t easy, despite their size.

Expert guides know where the bears go, what their habits are, and how to get sightings without laying bait. They’ll show you how to see where bears have been by identifying their footprints (large), their scat (smelly) and the scratch marks they leave on trees after sharpening their claws. You might also help a conservationist from a wildlife charity as they set camera traps or visit a sanctuary where you can see bears that have been rescued from captivity but cannot be released into the wild.


Dalmatian pelicans

Lake Kerkini, a protected wetland in northern Greece, is a major breeding site for Dalmatian pelicans. These huge and graceful birds are a vulnerable species, and boats take you out to where they and other birds such as pygmy cormorants nest in the spring. Fishing on the lake is kept small-scale and sustainable, and local boat captains know they can make extra income through responsible tourism.

While birdwatching in Lake Kerkini you can also see kites and eagles soaring watchfully over their hunting grounds, no fewer than six woodpecker species drilling away in riparian forests, and mammals too. Grey wolves, wildcats, jackals and roe deer haunt the forests, and crowds of water buffalo come down to the lake’s edge to drink and bathe. But while the amount of wildlife on display is practically decadent, the skill and knowledge of local guides make all the difference to the number and quality of sightings you’ll get.

Dolphins

The ancient Greeks respected dolphins to the point that killing one was punishable by death – perhaps driven by the belief that dolphins were once human. The animals regularly appear on coins, frescoes and mosaics, and the common dolphin is Greece’s national animal. Sadly, though, the bottlenose and short-beaked common dolphins that frequent Greek waters have suffered serious population decline and much of it is down to human activity, from boat collisions to carelessly discarded fishing nets.

Dolphin conservation volunteer projects in Greece focus on two key areas: the Ambracian Gulf and the National Marine Park of Alonnisos and Northern Sporades. The latter is a family-friendly project, with children aged 11 and up welcome to join in. In the Ambracian Gulf, you’ll live alongside a team of scientists and researchers, using inflatable boats to monitor pods and record data which, in the long term, can show how the dolphins interact with their environment and how human activities such as fisheries and pollution can affect their conservation status.


Flamingos

Greece is hugely important bird-wise, as it sits at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa, making it a popular stop-off for migratory species catching a breather. Migratory greater flamingos arrive from Africa to winter in the wetlands of Lefkada from around early November. There can be up to 30,000 of them at any one time, making for a vibrant swathe of pink across this protected area.

Lefkada’s wetlands are ideal territory for the flamingos, with plenty of aquatic creatures for them to feed on and few predators to watch out for, so they can perch on one leg in privacy and peace.

Jackals

Jackals are endangered in Greece due to habitat loss and hunting – to say they’re not beloved by shepherds would be quite the understatement. They are thought to number around 1,500 but in small groups, cut off from each other by natural barriers like mountains and developments that shear through their ranges, making them vulnerable to human pressures and devastating wildfires.

Jackals in Greece can be found in the Peloponnese region but also on the Aegean island of Samos, birthplace of Pythagoras and Epicurus, and also home to chameleons, on what’s considered a Mediterranean ‘biodiversity lifeboat’.

Kri-kri

Endemic to Crete (and a handful of small islands nearby), the kri-kri is a feral goat that was venerated in ancient Greece but is sadly endangered today. Despite hunting them being banned, their tender meat remains in demand. Horned and nimble (their Olympian ability to scale sheer cliff faces and leap great canyons would put a parkour champion to shame), the kri-kri are found in largest numbers among the peaks of the Samaria Gorge.

Seals

The Mediterranean monk seal is found only in the eastern Mediterranean, and around half of the population lives in Greek waters. Seal conservation holidays in Greece include daily boat expeditions led by ecologists and naturalist guides. You might also cast your eyes upwards in search of Eleonora’s falcons, and on island walks you can spy reptiles such as snakes, lizards and skinks. The islands in question are known as the Lichades in the Euobean Gulf. Here, the elusive seals dance through fields of sea grass and huddle up in caves with their pups.

While seal spotting in Greece, your sightings and photos (with your permission) will be used by a local charity, MOm Hellas, that works to protect the species through research, conservation and raising public awareness. Some of our partners also make a donation to the charity for every traveller that visits.

Sea turtles

Only one in 1,000 sea turtles makes it to adulthood after which the females will return to the same beach they were themselves born on 20 – 30 years previously to lay their own eggs. That is, if the beach is still there, and the conditions are suitable. Otherwise she may end up getting disorientated, or giving birth at sea instead, with the loss of all the eggs. Volunteers have a huge role to play in making beaches safe and welcoming for sea turtles to lay their eggs, and in helping as many hatchings as possible reach the sea for the best chance at life, and the survival of their species.

Endangered loggerhead turtles lay their eggs on the beaches of Kefalonia every summer (as well as other islands and regions including Crete and the Peloponnese). Turtle volunteer projects see you helping remove obstructions and plastic waste from the beach, monitoring nests to prevent poaching or damage caused by weather or clumsiness, and engaging with hotels, fishermen and tourists about how they can help.

While you won’t be swimming alongside them, it’s a wonderful thing to witness these beautiful creatures emerge from the waves and lay their eggs right in front of you. And even more memorable to watch as the baby turtles hatch, and help their progress into the sea.

    Read more in our turtle conservation in Greece guide

Whales

Fin whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales and sperm whales are all resident year-round in Greek waters, with rare migratory visits from humpbacks, false killer whales and minke whales. Crete is perhaps the best place for whale watching in Greece. The vast Hellenic Trench, which passes by the island’s south coast, has a depth of over 5,000m and is a favoured hunting ground for sperm whales looking for squid.

Wolves

Greece has a thriving wolf population, with over 1,000 of them at last count in the northeast of the country. Wolves are very shy of humans – probably for the best – so when you’re walking in the Pindos Mountains or Vikos-Aoos National Park you shouldn’t expect sightings. Instead, guides are likely to show you how to track wolves by their paw prints or droppings.

As with bears, the wolves in Greece also have an uneasy relationship with rural communities as they will go after livestock. The importance of wildlife charities in compensating farmers fully and quickly for their losses cannot be overstated when it comes to tolerance of the wolves’ presence.

Responsible Travel would like to thank Greek National Tourism Organisation
for their sponsorship of this guide.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Javier Quiroga] [Intro: Charles J. Sharp] [Birds of prey: Dorothea OLDANI] [Dolphins: Talia Cohen] [Seals: Wanax01]