We frequently ask our school age audiences if they know what the word respect means or what it means to them. Their answers are typically clear, honest and quite on point with what we view respect as. When we talk about respect we are talking about respect to the animals in our care as well as animals in the wild. Our birds did not choose to live a captive life and in fact, they would never choose this life. You may ask, why wouldn't they be happy? They have all the food they want, they are "safe", they have shelter and are well cared for, all they have to do is go and sit on your glove for a program. The truth is that a captive life is a huge gift to give and it is not for all animals. These are not social animals nor are they captive bred which means that they have no interest in us, as companions whatsoever. They have lived a wild life and had no choice but to lose that. They do not view us as their "friend" or owner, however, our goal is to build a cooperative working relationship with them where we, the handlers and caretakers, become a familiar and trusted safety zone. We need them to be relatively comfortable with us coming into their enclosures, feeding them, cleaning up their space, putting equipment on them, handling them and moving them around. We believe in giving the animals choice and allowing them to be themselves while still agreeing to a working relationship with us. Out of respect to the animals we do not pet them or touch them other than to have them on the glove or handle them as necessary to examine them, change equipment or perform husbandry care. To pet them would be something that we, as humans might want to do because we would enjoy it, but the animal wouldn't enjoy it, so we don't do it. When we bring out a bird at a program we ask children not to laugh or scream if the birds flap around or bate (jump off of the glove), because again, this isn't fun for the animal. They are doing us a favor by being an education animal and allowing people the amazing opportunity to see a bird of prey up close. We owe it to them to show them the upmost respect and to realize the value in being able to learn from them.
Additionally, we want to encourage people to have respect for the wild raptors and other animals who we share the world with. We want to inspire others to realize that these birds are important to our environment. And, to spread the word that in order to help these wild birds we first have to understand them, respect what they are and who they are and be okay with the fact that they are magnificent and amazing creatures even with their differences to us.
The next word we use to convey our message is responsibility. If we truly care about these animals and want to see them be a successful species we have to also take some responsibility in making that happen and creating change. Change is not easy and many people view issues or problems as so big and monumental that they won't be able to do anything to change things so why even try. This couldn't be further from the truth. There are many things that people can do in order to promote change and support these birds. here are just a few things that are very important and impact the lives of raptors everywhere.
- Support organizations such as ours so that we can continue to educate the public about raptors. Support can come in different ways such as donating money, sharing the information, attending programs or volunteering.
- Don't use rodenticides (poison) for rodent control. Wild raptors from the tiny American Kestrel all the way up to the Great Horned Owl will eat rodents. Rodenticides cause rodents to die slowly becoming weak and slow making them easy prey for a raptor. The poisoned rodent becomes a deadly risk to the raptor who has taken this easy prey. Rodenticides put cats, dogs and other animals at risk as well. Share this information and encourage your friends and neighbors not to use rodenticides.
- Consider putting up a barn owl or kestrel nest box. Some of these animals can benefit from a habitat to raise a family.
- Try to see things from the animal's point of view. Realizing that while raptors are not cuddly and interested in our affection, they still need to eat and are important and they matter.
Reverence is having a deep respect and admiration of someone or something, even being in awe. That is how we view these animals. Even handlers and caretakers that have been handling birds of prey for many years are grateful every day for the opportunity to be able to work with these birds, to handle them and to care for them. Reverence should encourage us daily to continue to try and see things from the animal's point of view and to appreciate them deeply for who and what they are. We try to always remember that a captive life is not the life these birds chose, it isn't how they were meant to live and doing so is an amazing gift to those of us who get to learn from them. Just their presence and seeing an eagle, a falcon, an owl or a hawk up close can inspire people in a way that they never felt when just seeing the birds in a photograph or soaring above them in the sky. We should all be as impressed and in awe seeing them in the wild and we hope that our birds and our organization inspires people to do that and to gain a new appreciation for raptors in the wild.