Category Archives: conserve

Rehabilitating a Tawny Eagle

Rehabilitating a Tawny Eagle

A young Tawny Eagle was rescued from a man trying to sell her on the road side. She was kept in a cage by a caring owner and well looked after, but ruined her primary feathers. Her pen had wire mesh of a harmful type and self destruction was sure to follow. We had corresponded by email but well before he had to leave the country he had decided the best thing was to hand it on to Sarah Higgins.

 Unlike most birds who have gone through so much she was always a happy eagle, without too many faults largely because her first owner took an effort to “man” her. Without being kept on the glove and trained she would almost certainly have been a physical and mental wreck. Certainly those cage walls would have finished off a wild and terrified bird and she’d be unmanageable now.

Sarah built her a sensible shed, with partly enclosed walls with soft (shade netting) windows. I would occasionally drop by to see Rosy and Girl and of course I was immediately enamoured by the new Tawny Eagle. I think her name was originally something like Thunder or similar. Such names make my toes curl and I much prefer names that sum up the less dramatic side of an animal. She was called DuDu, (after an insect) then Boo Boo after all the bungled landings and take offs on her severely clipped wings.

Note clipped wings

Note clipped wings

Boo Boo was flying free in a matter of days. She is a pig for food and all one had to do is show her some and she’d run, hop and fly for it. The noble “art” of falconry is a load of bunkum in actuality and it is as simple as asking a dog to come back and a lot easier than asking a cat or horse to do so. It staggers me still why people make such a fuss about the difficulty and either herald it as a fine thing or damn it because it is so cruel. I find it best just to let raptors fly around and exercise themselves and leave the arguments to those that have the time. As much as Boo Boo would try she would fail to catch anything and often land exhausted before she got to her destination. Many an Egyptian Goose she strove to catch, but would land short.

Falconers “imp” broken feathers. Again this is mystified by some, when all it is, is gluing a replacement feather together to the old broken one to make one good feather. I got some old feathers from a Fish Eagle and imped a few. But she needed the whole lot replaced. Imping them all is possible, but the wings need constant maintenance. If she had flown away she would be in danger. It was best to let her moult on her own. 

Note Fine wings!

Note Fine wings!

It has taken her from Oct 2010 to July 2011 to moult out all her flight feathers. Compare the two photos. Prior to a moult release would have been fatal. It just goes to confirm the danger of cage management and it sadness me that this is still the “approved” method here in Kenya.

When I moved into ‘my pad’ in late May I was despite some absence, able to devote much time to flying her. Boo Boo has excelled herself in catching full grown zebra and wildebeest in front of astonished friends and students. The repeated humiliation of being tossed and thrown to the ground like a bug did not deter her.  Trying to set a new world record is obviously her goal, but wisdom has dawned in her small brain finally and she now tries for more reasonable sized prey.

Soy Sambu Hills

Soy Sambu Hills

On July 2011 she was taken to Soy Sambu Wildife Conservancy, there to meet her future minders, Juliet Barnes and Kat Combes. Jolia Hill lies in the middle of a plain, yet again surrounded by other small hills. Thousands of animals now live on rehabilitated land, once a livestock paddock and fields. Instead of the usual wild habitat removal, it is wild habitat encouragement. Still heady from receiving World Heritage Status for protecting Lake Elementeita the outlook is positive.  All were anxious to be there at the precise moment when Boo Boo was released, little realising the event would be somewhat dampened by the fact that I would call her back immediately. We did all have a good time watching her getting used to her surroundings. I think she was a hit.

Release is NEVER an instant severing of ties. The “rush into the bush and hurl” technique so often the officially approved method, is instead replaced by a smooth transition from captivity to freedom. Already a confident flyer with some stamina Boo Boo still has to find a territory, compete with her neighbouring eagles, and find out what foods are available and how to get it.

Boo Boo chased Jackal, stole food from others, stole food from an Augur Buzzard and got chased out of town off “her” hill. Not that it upset her at all! I had to tramp over hill and dale looking for her for two days. The radio transmitter mounted on her tail, a refurbished memory from some distant project squawked its last breath by giving me misleading directions. Because Boo Boo was so mobile and out of control, I knew I would lose her quickly. So I called her back and returned her to Naivasha with it in mind to return with a better transmitter. With luck there will be a series of adventures relating to Boo Boo’s release to follow!

Conserving a Beautiful Location – Kwenia

Staying at Hog Ranch once Simon was released from hospital was great. I had itchy hands as I had no camera with me and wildlife was tame. David Gulden, our host, was scratching a warthog on the nose and called over to me to “come and feel her warts.” A new one for me. I also marveled at a huge bull giraffe that bowed his head down to meet mine, just curious it seemed.

Sandy and Sandy have been endlessly kind to us and have been putting us up in their home. Simon has been progressing really fast and we are almost ready to take on our expedition. Simon’s bad hip is the one he needs for the clutch so I will have to pass my driving test (which embarrassingly I have not yet done) so I can do the driving.

Simon was feeling so well two days ago that with the two Sandys, we decided to go on a camping trip to a cliff site called Kwenia. We made the decision that morning and within a couple of hours were ready with the car packed. We didn’t get too far before the car starting giving us trouble and we had to turn back. That didn’t hold us back for long and we tried again the following day, on Obama Day (Kenya declared a national holiday in honour of Obama winning the American presidency).

It isn’t a pleasant road for the most part, but once we left the main road, we started to see Dikdiks and Kudus. The rain arrived, bringing in the termites which in turn attracted the Hobbies. The scenery got more and more beautiful until we arrived along a huge expanse of cliff faces on one side, mountains on the other and an empty temporary lake in between them, full of golden grass. Sandy and Sandy wowed and we all sat quietly contemplating the beauty of the place. Simon has been talking about Kwenia for a long time and I now understand why. We arrived as night fell, so we started a fire and discussed potential ways in which the place could be protected.

The rain returned and sent us running to the car where we all dozed until the braver of us got out and set up tents. I continued to sleep in the nice dry car. Morning brought light that allowed us to look onto the cliffs and see the real importance of the area: a colony of nesting Rüppell’s Vultures, the largest known in Southern Kenya (at last count, it had more than 200 individuals). We ate breakfast with binoculars glued to our faces as we tried to count them, then watched as they set off to whatever distant locations they may go to. Still so much is unknown about their daily routine but they do travel very large distances. We also had the pleasure of seeing Rock Kestrels and Egyptian Vultures on the cliffs.

vultures at kwenia
Rüppell’s Vultures at Kwenia (How many can you see?)

We set off and took a little detour to Lake Magadi to see the Lesser Flamingos. Simon and I hoped to see a Fish Eagle swoop down on a Flamingo but it wasn’t to be. We did, however, see what Simon believes to be an Imperial Eagle drinking from a puddle. If it was the Imperial, then it is quite a treat as they are extremely rare migrants from Europe. The scenery is beautiful around that area and we all returned pleased from a great little trip. We really do hope that Kwenia’s importance will soon be realised and that it will be conserved.

gerenuk at kwenia
Gerenuk in Magadi

lake magadi
Lake Magadi