The animals of Crete
We know the prehistoric fauna of Crete included animals that are now extinct, such as a dwarf elephant without tusks, a dwarf hippopotamus the size of a pig as well as a kind of deer. These had probably all disappeared by the time the first humans settled the island, or possibly soon after. It is also virtually certain that there were wild boar on Crete, if one can judge from the many Minoan helmets made out of boars' teeth.
But whether they were native to the island or had been introduced by the Minoans is unknown. Crete's geographical isolation led to the evolution of local species of flora and fauna which are endemic to the island.
The Kri-kri - the most important mammal is the Cretan wild goat (Capra aegagrus-cretica) which lives in the White Mountains and the Samaria Gorge (the National Park of Samaria) as well as on uninhabited rocky islets of the area. More commonly the male is called ‘agrimi’ and the female ‘sanada’.
Next to these a native cat species "fourokatos" (Felix silvestris-agrius), a kind of marten and a badger still live here.
The Cretan Wild Cat (Felix silvestris-agrius) - A few years ago the Cretan Wild Cat was considered a 'ghost animal'. The legend took flesh and blood when it was first captured in 1996 giving a new perspective to the origins of the Cretan fauna. Scientists are now testing whether the wild cat existed on Crete prior to its separation from the mainland, or was brought for domestication by the first settlers, but later it ran wild again.
The mountainous areas of Crete also give home to predatory birds such as the golden eagle (Aquila crhysaetus), the rare bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) and the vulture (Gyps fulvus).
The Lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus), which may grow to 102-114 cm in length and have a wing span of 2.5 m, is the largest bird of prey in Europe. Almost exclusively a carrion eater, it feeds largely off the bones left by other vultures after they have had their fill (which explains its other Greek name of kakala, or boner). It drops the larger marrow bones from a great height onto rocks to break them, chosing specific spots, known as spastres (or breakers). Crete today hosts a dwindling population of 20-30 individuals. A conservation program underway is attempting to save the last remaining birds.
The Caretta-Caretta is the only species of Mediterranean sea-turtles which nests in Greece. Sea turtles are reputed to be strongly philopatric, and always return to the same beach they were born on to lay their eggs. Nesting beaches in Greece are located in Zakynthos, Peloponnese and Crete.
In Crete the highest nesting densities were found in Rethymnon, Chania and Messara Bay. The Caretta-Caretta is an endangered species and it needs the help of us all. The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece (STPS) initiated an intensive tagging program in 1982 and is doing a great job so far. Another organization for the protection of Sea turtles is Medasset (Mediterranean Association to Save Sea Turtles), which is based in Greece.
The Monachus-Monachus (Mediterranean Monk Seal) is one of the world's most endangered mammals and one of 3 species of Monk Seal. It once swarmed through the Mediterranean and adjoining Atlantic while the other 2 species were common in the Pacific and Caribbean. These represent the only genus of seal found in tropical seas.
The Mediterranean Monk Seal gave its name to two ancient cities, Phocaea in Attica and Phocaea in Asia Minor, and, as late as the 15th century, was plentiful enough to fuel a commercial fishery. Their population today is estimated in 500 seals.