A couple of days ago, I read my e-mails and my heart sank when I read the first line on screen. “I am sorry to tell you that Vero’s was killed …”
Martin Wheeler took on Vero’s a couple of months ago because I was closing down the raptor facility at Athi River. Vero’s, a Verreaux’s Eagle, was an Abel rescue from a small mountain near me. She had fallen 75 feet down a cliff and I ended up looking after her. Twelve years have gone by, and we built up a special eagle/human bond that few other than eagle handlers will ever understand.
I dreaded the day when we were to part company. I was too quick putting her in her box and racing to the airfield for her to be flown up to Martin who lives on a great escarpment in Samburu district at Il Ngewsi. In a moment she was airborne, carried away by a small plane. I had hoped to see her again, perhaps if things worked out she may even have joined me again, somewhere new.
Martin informed me that she was killed at night by two Samburu “warriors” as she perched in a small tree. She had killed a dik dik previously and had flown to the tree. Martin was in the process of letting her have her freedom as much as possible. The two men may have had a vendetta of some kind against wildlife for they left her body on the road to be found. Despite conservation projects focusing more and more on sharing benefits with local communities, these sorts of incidents seem to be becoming more frequent. It is very hard for me right now to get my head around the reasons why. I am trying not to be too despairing about the situation.
I loved Vero’s, as did Martin and all those that met her. She flew to the hand of hundreds, influenced a generation of people in Kenya and visitors from abroad. She was gentle despite her massive size, and harmless. That two brave warriors felt moved to bash her to death puts so much into perspective.
I was not happy that day and Laila knew it. She thought to make me more light hearted by videoing a “Work out video.” It worked. The video shows me struggling to do sit ups, straining to do some awful lower back exercise. Then we thought it would be fine to finish off with some pull-ups. We were filling in the time waiting for Tim to make his appearance.
I have a 1000 litre water (264 U.S. gallons) tank supported by a cradle of metal scaffolding. It makes a good place for pull-ups. I jumped up and for a laugh decided to fake enormous strength by using my feet on the lower scaffold. The result was recorded: The whole thing spun around and collapsed on top of me. It happened in a flash. The weight was terrifying and I thought in that fraction of time that if the crushing force was to continue I would end up in a serious mess.
The metal twisted and crunched into my left thigh. I howled with pain and the shock of the water bursting added to the confusion. Laila ran to lift up the scaffolding off my leg in a burst of strength. I lay under a barbed wire fence looking up at the sky trying to think straight. The pain was worse than a broken bone. Laila ran to the house and got a blanket and phoned for help. Of all the moments to look up into the sky and see a falcon, one appeared overhead catching termites. I was slightly light-headed but composed enough to think it was Tim returning but it turned out to be a hobby.
Laila yelled for Nicholas and he showed up with Puppy. Puppy, who is otherwise totally aloof, was distraught. She stood with her cold nose in my ear, looking very upset. Darkness fell and the rescue team arrived with David Hopcraft, Phil Tilley, Isaiah, Diane and Tim Bannister. Expertly, they strapped my legs together and got me out of my wet clothes. They put me in the back of a 4×4 truck and Isaiah and Laila took me to Nairobi hospital. It was an agonizing two-hour drive down a bumpy road.
I arrived in hospital to be quickly dealt with. Laila knows more about the next couple of hours as I was given pain-killers that made me funny. Munir showed up and I was then taken to the ward around midnight. The next morning, I was taken to “surgery” where they cleaned my open wounds and stitched me up. I have a small fracture in my pelvis that will need to mend on its own. My dislocated hip popped itself back into place.
I can’t wait to get out of my hospital bed and get back outside and continue with our plans, though they might have to be slightly altered.
More posts about Vero’s: