During the release of a honey buzzard back to the wild at Quinta dos Malvedos, we spoke to Dr. João Tomás, of the Wild Birds Recovery Unit of the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, about his life in the Douro and his passion for birds.
For more information on Wild Birds Recovery Unit visit their Facebook page, here (in Portuguese).
Adriano Ferreira Borges: Good morning. What’s your name, and what do you do for a living?
João Tomás: Hello. My name is João Tomás and I’m a vet.
AFB: And where do you live?
JT: At the moment in Vila Real, but originally, I’m from Batalha.
AFB: So, you’re not from the Douro then. Do you like it here?
JT: Yes, of course! I came here to study in Vila Real, specifically, veterinary medicine in the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro in 2008. When I finished my studies, I had the luck to be able to stay on in the Wild Animal Recovery Unit (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens) of the University Veterinary Hospital. However, I was born in the centre of Portugal, in Batalha, but now I think I am more than part Trásmontano (a person from Trás-os-Montes)… I like it in Vila Real, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but for now I like it here.
AFB: You said you worked in the Wild Animal Recovery Unit. Do you only work with birds, or do you also treat other animals?
JT: We work with wild animals in general, including, wild birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Normally the animals that find their way to us are found injured on the street, and are brought to us by members of the public. We then try and figure out what’s wrong, and return them to their home in nature.
AFB: But you have a special relationship with birds, right?
JT: Yes, since I was young I’ve been fascinated with them, something I inherited from my father who also loved to study them when he was young. In 2010, I volunteered in a recovery unit, and worked with a group of people passionate about birds, which made my interest grow even more. So now, a day doesn’t pass that I don’t look at a bird, and I don’t walk in the field with my binoculars to see what I can see. At this time, it is a passion and a hobby, and I hope in the future I can work in the area.
AFB: Did you ever work with wine?
JT: To be honest, I never had much contact with it! I have a friend from secondary school whose family produce some wine, but just for their own consumption. And now that I think of it, I helped my uncle during the harvest when I was very young.
AFB: So, you have been living in the Douro nine years now, what changes have you noticed in this time?
JT: Well, everything I like about it has stayed the same! The things that I can put my finger on are the more negative things, like the increase in forest fires in the summer, and this year even in the spring.
AFB: How do you imagine the Douro in ten years’ time?
JT: In the last 10 or 15 years, the Douro has already changed for the better due to increased tourism and investment, something the region badly needed due to the desertification of the region in the 80’s and 90’s. I think that developments in the vineyards, and in winemaking are very positive for the local populations as it has created jobs and the opportunity for more companies to invest in the region. Tourism has also allowed new people to get to know this beautiful place.
AFB: So, you think tourism is a positive thing?
JT: On one hand it is, due to what I said earlier. On the other, we must be careful, as we need to remember to preserve all living things, which need their own space. We need to protect what is already here.
AFB: Well, although you live in a beautiful place, you must go on holidays sometimes. Where do you go?
JT: Good question! Basically, my holidays revolve around observing birds! I try and go to areas of the country that I know are inhabited by species of birds I haven’t seen before, and try to observe them.
AFB: That’s dedication! What sort of food do you like?
JT: I like traditional Portuguese cooking, and principally my mother’s!
AFB: Any favourite?
JT: I love cozido á Portuguesa and posta Maronesa (steak maronesa)
AFB: Do you not mean to say Mirandesa (a breed of cow)?
JT: No, no. The breed is Maronesa, from the Marão mountains, although now you find more of them in the Alvão.
AFB: I won’t argue with you! Thanks for talking to me.
JT: You’re welcome!