There are many reasons you might want to go on a holiday to Crete; beaches, sunshine, history and a world of amazing dining experiences. However, there is one thing that you may not go to Crete specifically to see, but, it will make your trip one to remember above all others: the wildlife. From land, air and sea there are many animals which may catch your eye as you venture into through the beautiful Crete countryside.
What creatures are lurking the wilds of Crete and how should you go about finding them?
Large and colourful, the swallowtail butterfly is a delight to see fluttering in the wind as you take a stroll through the countryside. They belong to the family Papilionidae and have various species numbering over 550! Typically, a tropical species, they inhabit every continent in the world except Antarctica. Swallowtails are a very distinctive butterfly. Particularly, as the forked appearance of the hindwings can distinguish it easily – it is this that coined the popular name of swallowtail for this butterfly.
The kri-kri – also known as a Cretan goat or Agrimi – are feral goats which inhabit the Eastern Mediterranean. It is now only found on the island of Crete and smaller islands surrounding (Dia, Thodorou and Agii Pantes). Shy around humans, these goats rest throughout the day and can leap incredible distances across sheer cliffs to forage for food. Today, there is only around 2,000 kri-kri left in the wild as during the German occupation throughout World War II they were often the only source of food for Cretan guerrilla forces. Though much of their numbers can be found in the Samaria Gorge (a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve), which became a national park in 1962 in part to help protect this dwindling species.
Despite only being found in Crete in the modern day, they are not thought to be a natural inhabitant of the area. Likely, they were imported to the island during the height of the Minoan civilisation. However, today the kri-kri exists as a symbol of Crete and holds great cultural significance for its people.
A subspecies of the European wildcat, the Cretan variant was thought to be extinct until one was captured in 1996. Unlike most variants of wildcat, there are multiple theories of how they came to inhabit the island. One suggests that they were present there before Crete was split from the mainland. The second that they are the descendants of the domesticated cats, brought to the island by the first settlers, which escaped and eventually became feral.
The griffon vulture is a large Old World vulture, i.e. vultures that are found on the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. A large bird, ranging from 93 to 122 centimetres long, it has a typical vulture appearance of a white head, broad wings and short tail feathers. It can have a lifespan of 40 years or more. By nature, the griffon vulture is a scavenger and feeds primarily on the carcases of dead animals.
They nest in the mountain ranges of Crete, laying one egg in the safe crags that are rarely touched by human activity.