An interview with Pino Paolillo
How and why did you become involved with the protection, conservation and promotion of the environment.?
It all began when I read a book by Vinzenz Ziswiler, “ Extinct animals and those on the way to extinction”. The final chapter referred to the plight of Italian wildlife and was written by Fulco Pratesi of WWF Italia ,Roma.
I sent my subscription fee, including a donation, for 1600 lira and ,together with my membership card, a hand-written note arrived asking me which project I intended my donation to be used for. I replied, project Anatre ( ducks ).
It was 1972,WWF Italia had been going for 6 years and I was a 15 year old Calabrian with a mad passion for animals, used to arguing to save a lizard from vivisection or trying to protect House Martins from stone throwing youths.
I will try to sum up in a few lines all that has happened to me in almost, a half a century, a near impossible task, the many memories of the things I have done, the excitement and the fear, the risks run and the joys of success as well as the disappointments of failure.
What are the main activities that you are involved in?
My main activities are:
- The battle against hunting and poaching,
- pollution and
- the general abuse of our natural environment.
Currently I am involved with safeguarding Lake Antigola a protected nature reserve in Calabria.
In the reserve you can admire a wide variety of birds including the beautiful male widgeon, the great crested grebe, as well as birds of prey and swans.
I continue to fight against poaching, illegal fishing and the cutting down of trees along the river banks and hunting.
What successes and disappointments have you had?
In the place where I used to swim as a boy, they wanted to build a tourist port just three kms from one already in existence. I set about trying to stop the development ,convincing 700 local residents to sign a petition and the Minister for Culture stopped the whole thing.
These days you sign petitions on-line and messages of support come from all over so in 2003 we began to protest against another port project, this time at Capo Vaticano , which would have made the writer Giuseppe Berti roll over in his grave to see the place which he loved desecrated.
In the end the project was abandoned and the Coast of the Gods has become a marine reserve.
Going further down the coast to Gioia Tauro how can I forget the first protests against another concrete monster we managed to defeat,the coal fired power station which they intended to build on the plains where orange trees grow in the shade of ancient olive groves.
It was February 1982 and there were 8 of us gathered to protest in Piazza Italia in Reggio Calabria. The power station was never built but there is still no peace among the olive trees on that plain with incinerators and immigrants worked like slaves to harvest the fruit.
I have saved many animals over the years (thanks to countless calls from concerned citizens) including a sea turtle with a fisherman’s hook stuck in its throat, a sperm whale trapped in a fisherman’s net and bats stuck in a chimney risking suffocation.
I have kept note of all these over the years in my archive.
Many times I have had to visit a doctor for treatment to injuries inflicted by those I am trying to save.
Many are the times I have suffered disappointments and threats over the years.
I will never forget the 5 Sept 1982 when I found myself in a police station after I tried to report the presence of hunters in the nature reserve.
Beyond counting are the number of threats I have received because of the 15,000 hunting licence requests that I have tried to block from “Gentleman” hunters who advised me to stay at home unless I should find myself sitting in my burning car.
Fortunately the blaze never occurred but the punches in the face I still remember.
My greatest disappointment after all these years of appealing to humanity to respect our natural world is that, to many, it is still completely alien and that making them see their folly is still a long way off.
However, if I were able to go back in time I would still send that 1600 lire.
With which environmental organisations are you most closely linked?
We work with many groups, especially when you’re fighting to obtain justice. The main ones are ; Legambiente, Greenpeace, FAI and Marevivo Italia Nostro
Which events characterise your environmental work?
- The festival of the Oasis: this event aims to raise awareness of the environment and all its creatures. Those who participate can enjoy the beauty and fascination of the protected natural park.
- Earth hour: 60 minutes of symbolic darkness
- many other initiatives that are trying to promote a sustainable future along with the movement to raise awareness about climate change.
- Caring for bio-diversity: I support centres dedicated to the care and protection of turtle and their breeding sites.
- the recovery of the duned area of lake Antigola which is an important nesting site for many birds.