We stood in awe and wanted to help… maybe you will too.
South Africa has over 80 raptor species (birds of prey) many endemic to the region, many at high risk due to habitat loss and human-raptor conflicts. Shannon and her husband Ben are a powerful duo on a mission to preserve Africa’s birds of prey. Ben the rescue and rehabilitation expert, while Shannon an expert falconer and educator. Due to great demands, Shannon doesn’t have nearly the time she needs to expand the much needed in-school and community outreach.
We visited a high school only 30 miles away. The environmental science teachers and the Enviro Club students had never heard of or been to the sanctuary! Nikela’s very first project was to get them there to experience one of their local treasures, the birds of prey.
Much more of this is needed, that’s why we support Shannon and her work so more can be educated, so more will appreciate and thus protect the predators of the skies.
It’s a gorgeous morning…
My excitement rises as we wind our way along the crest of the hill. There, with the rolling hills of Kwazulu Natal as the back drop lies a haven for Africa’s birds of prey.
We drive into the gravel parking lot and Ben comes bounding out of the building that serves as reception, office, snack bar and future indoor education hall. He escorts us into the office where Shannon is bent over a pile of paperwork, “Oh how I detest this…” she mutters, then pulls herself away to greet us warmly.
It’s been a little over a year that we first met Shannon and Ben during our visit home in early 2009. Russ and I were impressed by their commitment, dedication, skill, as well as their great need and awesome potential.
Now we were here as much more than casual observers, but representing Nikela and wanting to introduce them to the world.
As Shannon makes final preparations for the morning flight show, Ben leads us behind the scenes into the heart of his rescue and rehabilitation center.
Between 150 and 200 injured birds come through the center each year, some that cannot be returned to the wilds are given safe haven in the sanctuary, of which a select few are trained for the educational flight show. (More about this world class rescue and rehabilitation center at a later date.)
It’s time for the flight show!
The Flight Show
The open air flight arena with an old gnarly tree (to show how the owl is camouflaged), bushes, tall grasses and open area creates a marvelous natural stage for Shannon to show how birds of prey skillfully maneuver in flight. This is all fabulously back dropped by never ending hills and valleys as far as the eye can see.
Shannon warms up the crowd, a group of students and their teachers, plus a few holiday makers. Lindy, her assistant, prepares the first bird. Each bird in the show is carefully chosen to tell a story about its species, to create awareness for why it is essential for a balanced ecosystem, and to shatter deadly myths.
Breaking Deadly Myths
The owl is feared by the locals. Seeing an owl means someone in the family is going to die. So to avoid death owls are killed and persecuted. The vulture’s brains are dried and sniffed to foretell the future, especially winning lottery numbers. Even though it may not the prettiest bird, vultures deserve to live. They are integral to nature’s cleanup plan, so this myth must be dispelled to keep them from being killed, usually brutally via poison.
Chicken the Star of the Show
Chicken is a Lanner Falcon who lives and works at the Bird of Prey Sanctuary. As an apex species, Chicken and his fellow falcons are an integral part of the chain of life, and if they die out there will be a devastating chain reaction, which will ultimately affect human kind as well.
While a beautiful ten-year-old male falcon, Chicken’s early days when he was rescued from a river bank were rocky to say the least. Brought to the Raptor Rescue Hospital by a compassionate couple of rafters, Chicken spent eight long months recovering from being poisoned, which sadly is a common occurrence in the region. But with the expert care provided by Ben, Chicken recovered but was not able to be released into the wild. Therefore, he started his journey of being a Falcon Ambassador. (Read “Chicken Not Your Ordinary Falcon Ambassador” in our ebook section.)
What a thrill to experience the sheer power and speed as Chicken buzzes quickly over our heads then takes off into the distance. He wears a tracking device for a reason. He is hardly visible to the human eye as all watch intently wondering, “Will he return?”
Apparently Chicken did get distracted before and ignored Shannon’s lure and calls. Thanks to the tracking device a rather sad looking and hungry Chicken was found, uncharacteristically huddled, under a bush.
After the flight show the students gather round to get a closer look at Chicken. By the look in their eyes you know today’s experience has made a difference.
Help Shannon Fly Chicken
Flying Chicken and his team mates for more people is key to spreading the awareness needed to reduce human-raptor conflict. Shannon needs the funds to take her flight show off site as well as to bring more Enviro Club students to the sanctuary. Right now only the elite schools can afford the travel expenses and as you may have guessed it’s the more impoverished communities that need the education most.
That’s why we introduced you to Shannon and Chicken, because like us, you probably want to help. By all of us giving a little (say $7 a month) and inviting our friends to do the same, Shannon can do what she does best, fly Chicken and educate the young and the old, why and how they can preserve one of Africa’s treasures, the birds of prey.
As you support Shannon you’ll enjoy following her and Chicken via stories, photos and video clips… so go ahead, please make your donation to support Shannon’s work now.
[Since starting this project 8 years ago Chicken has passed away.
However, birds like Bandit and Orion continue his legacy. Read more about Chicken here…]
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