Falcons, owls, vultures and other raptors are at risk, however, Shannon a master falconer and Ben a world renowned rehabber make a big difference.
On a beautiful day in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, Chicken swoops through the air, eliciting wondrous reactions from children and adults alike. Chicken (a Lanner Falcon) appears bold and fearless in the sky, although he still bears a nickname from the kind of noises he made in his childhood. Without the help of Shannon and her husband Ben, however, this beautiful Lanner Falcon would not be able to soar in the skies today. Chicken spent eight months in rehabilitation, after kind souls who found him while on a rafting trip brought him to the Raptor Rescue Center. Although he was not able to be released back into the wild, Chicken now leads a fulfilling life as the star of the show at the center, educating children and adults on the wonders of birds of prey.
There are over 80 species of raptors native to South Africa alone, and around 150-200 birds come into the Raptor Rescue Center each year. Those that cannot be returned to the wild are given a safe home in the sanctuary; a few, like Chicken, are trained for the purpose of the educational flight show. Each raptor’s home at the sanctuary is crafted around their natural environment. Love, care, and attention are put into creating each of these birds’ homes.
Raptors in South Africa face a number of hurdles that Shannon and Ben are successfully helping them overcome. Some raptors, such as the owl, are killed because they are believed to be a sign of bad luck. Other raptors, such as the vulture, are killed because their brains are believed to bring good luck. One bearded vulture at the sanctuary had been kept by a witch doctor in a tiny cage for four years. Habitat loss is also an issue for many raptors. All of these birds, however, are necessary for a happy and healthy environment. Each raptor plays a key role in keeping the ecosystem balanced.
Rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing raptors is a great first step in saving South Africa’s raptor population. Breeding programs run at the facility are also of the utmost importance. Education also goes a long way to change in the locals’ attitude towards birds of prey. Between the flight show and touring the rehabilitation center, there are many captivating ways to teach about these beautiful and necessary birds of prey. By showing the falsity of old myths and demonstrating how raptors and humans can live in harmony, Shannon and Ben set a precedent for treatment of raptors in South Africa. Schoolchildren and teachers who visit their sanctuary leave in awe of and with a better appreciation and respect for these key avian members of their environment.
The more people who are reached with the raptor message, the better chance these birds have of becoming a thriving member of their natural community once more!
Written by Nikela Volunteer Cassie Sonne. Watch for more of her stories about Shannon’s work.