Peregrine Spring: A Master Falconer's Extraordinary Life with Birds of Prey - Nancy Cowan (2016)

Part II. A TALE OF TWO PEREGRINES

Chapter 23. Only Optimists Need Apply

There had been joy in the education I had been given by N-Z and Witch, and the lessons have stayed fresh in my mind. In the intervening years I have thought about N-Z’s demise on the road. At first I blamed the fact he could not have been put up for a year of rest and resented that the regulations did not allow this. I had wondered if his death was related to lack of strength in his injured wing. But having handled more falcons and gained more experience since then, I have come to the conclusion that N-Z’s own steadiness and stalwartness on his kill was what really contributed to his death. His firm stance on game was likely the factor that brought him to rehab in the first place.

There are opposing views about wildlife rehabilitation. The prevailing view of the public, and of many people who deal with wildlife conservation, is that rehabilitation reverses the damage caused by contact with human civilization. But the fact of the matter is that raptors are governed by instinct, and rehabbed raptors will return to the same successful hunting areas where they were injured, no matter how dangerous. And very often the second time is terminal.

Life in the wild is not a kind, gentle existence. It is hunt or be hunted. The strong, the skilled, and the lucky do not enter rehab. Law dictates that releasable creatures will be returned to the wild. In the past this was thought to be beneficial to wild populations. Eventually wildlife and conservation agencies banded together to do an exhaustive study on the effect of rehabilitating injured wildlife for release. The statistics were very plain, especially regarding birds of prey: A raptor taken into rehabilitation results in one less raptor in the wild. Returned to the wild, this same raptor does not increase the wild population by one, but instead becomes a “zero cipher.” In other words, once taken out becomes forever taken out.

Because of the precipitously dangerous lives lived by predators, the decks are stacked against successful rehab and release. Preparing a young, orphaned raptor for life in the wild is difficult, as a rehabber must replicate the ways parent birds instill skills in the young. In the case of injured raptors, it is assumed the bird will repeat whatever risky business got him into trouble, so recuperation and restoration to the wild do not ensure living happily ever after. In addition to the grim statistics, the conclusion of the agencies’ comprehensive survey was that rehabilitation of wildlife was a way to satisfy the public’s view that an injured creature must be “saved,” a natural response from a culture taught to treasure the environment and nature, but not of great consequence in terms of maintaining wild populations.

For some, standing at the sidelines and not participating in rehabilitation efforts is not an option. They cannot help themselves; they step forward and get involved despite the grim outlook of the statistics, despite the difficulties, laws, and licensing fees with which one must comply to take up rehabilitation work. Licensed rehabilitators are amazingly dedicated individuals. These optimistic people have struggled through the permitting process and jump to rescue, to heal, and to raise the young. Knowing full well the statistics, they convince themselves this time it will be different. This will be the one that doesn’t become the zero cipher. Sometimes the rehabilitator is right. Even sometimes is enough for those who do wildlife rehab.