Tag Archives: Crowned Eagle

The future of Rosy’s eyes

On the 25th Sept 2008, I woke up early and started the process of packing Rosy and Girl’s stuff into the car. At 8am, Mwanzia, Jonathan and I walked into the shed to catch Girl. She leapt from perch to perch frightened. Only 3 days previously she had escaped through the roof, bored and unhappy at being alone without Rosy. Luckily we were all outside at the time and we were able to drive after her. Weak with so little stamina from being cooped up in a small shed she was not fit enough to fly away. The small shed is twice the size of most exercise sheds in rehab centres, but still far too small to allow much muscle tone. Once she was trained and relatively tame and very fit. But these days she is wild. Now you have to catch her and that can be dangerous.

When she landed on the ground, we cornered her and threw a blanket over her head. I then injected her with Rompun, a very strong sedative. In 2 minutes we expected her to calm down and doze off. Half an hour later she was as vigorous as ever, and in a bad mood. I then entered alone and repeated the process. Another half hour past and I could not believe she was that strong. She weighs nearly twice as much as Rosy at some 12lbs. Finally, now late to get on the road, I used another drug on her and she went to sleep. Quickly I got Rosy in the far back, Mwanzia and Girl in the back seat and tore off for a tough 4.5 hour drive to Naivasha, dodging truculent traffic police waving us down on the road, and endless potholes. Three quarters of the way there, Girl woke up enough to throw Mwanzia around the back of the car. One foot in his chest and it would be all over for him, but her feet were like a puppies, incapable of gripping anything.

At Sarah Higgin’s house at Naivasha, we arrived frayed and exhausted. Rosy had behaved very well, although in thick traffic passing Matatus with loud ‘music’ blaring out, he did get nervous and try to struggle free. Blind but strong he sat it out patiently.

Immediately Sarah, Mike and I with a small entourage took the eagles down to the shed. Just finished and looking very fine under the shade of large yellow fever trees. We took the opportunity to get pictures of Sarah holding Girl, still a bit dozy from the drugs. We released her in familiar surroundings. The shed looked just like the old breeding shed in which she had been calm enough to raise families. Only the view outside was different. Not that much different, it has a sweeping view of wildebeest and giraffe too.
In 10 minutes I explained to Sarah the drugs, and the order in which they should be used. There really isn’t a strict order of use. You have some to lower the eye pressure, some to keep infection away and another to expand the pupil, one to inhibit protein. It started to rain, and I did not have headlights for the car, so I was on my way back in a very short time. I was, as can be imagined, very confused. This was the first time I had ever left Rosy or Girl in someone else’s care. Arriving home at dark with no headlights, I had 12 hrs to pack before leaving for UK and Ireland. I would be back in just over one week, and was grateful that I had these as a distraction.

Meanwhile the question remains as to whether or not Rosy will ever see. I have over the last few weeks accepted that he might not, and I haven’t considered putting him down. I sought confirmation in this from others as would most in my position. It is a weak thing to do. A few I had talked to did not understand why I would bother suggesting that he be kept alive when blind. I remembered an old colleague of mine who had a blind Red tailed Hawk, which he would show people and educate kids and appear on TV. He went on to do great things, and the hawk led some sort of valued life too. Mwanzia and Jonathan referred to Rosy and Samson. He is blind yet terribly powerful. When I last saw him in a shed with Sarah and others standing before him. He stood on one leg, preened and stared about him. Had he been sighted one or more of us would have been immediately hospitalized. But he had won over everyone there. Mwanzia has stayed on to be his minder. In that group the question of putting him down would not arise. Rosy was as alert and independent as most pets, and certainly better able to defend himself than almost all.

Sarah sent some pictures of the eyes to Dan Gradin and I read his comment back, thousands of miles away in a little upstairs room in my sister’s house in Canterbury. It was a very unfamiliar environment for me, and Rosy did not seem far away at all. Dan’s response was that he was surprised that Rosy could not see a thing despite the current condition of the eyes. Perhaps there was more damage; perhaps the retina was damaged too. I like to doubt this as I saw he had a good pupil reflex before and just after surgery. But he will have to be checked soon for this.

If Rosy requires it, additional surgery to remove the fibrin coat is possible. I am sure everyone agrees. If as it may turn out he needs a fresh new lens in each eye, then this too could be considered. At no point has he shown any sign of depression. If we have the technology to make him see, then we should try everything possible to make this happen. But I am now not his keeper and these options depend very much on just how long it will take for him to recover.
Laila and I hope to see Rosy and Girl as soon as we get back. Sarah and Mike have been incredibly hospitable, realizing the problem, and coming to the rescue of us all.

Rosy’s eyes

The last week was taken up with Rosy, the Crowned Eagle. The operation on his eyes was just over a week ago, and although there has not been a miraculous overnight recovery of vision he is strong and healthy. Over the week, there has been much discussion regarding the odd mushroom-like protrusion coming out of both pupils. I wrote about this and included a picture on the blog last week. I wasn’t sure if it was the sort of news people would like to see or read about, but you’d be surprised at the responses, some of which were very technical. The blog is therefore a great tool for putting something “out there” and getting feed-back. With this in mind, this blog describes what medicine regime we are using and also what I see happening to his eyes in layman’s terms.

Drs Dan Gradin, Nonee Magre, Barry Cockar, and Chris Murphy believe that the main reason why Rosy’s recovery is delayed is by a growth of a protein called fibrin. It seems as though this fibrin is growing in response to the lens extraction and invading the anterior capsule. I have no idea if this gelatinous, seemingly more viscous goo is also invading the posterior chamber, behind the iris but suspect that the posterior capsule to the lens inhibits this. I was asked to put Pred Forte in the eyes, a medicine that inhibits excessive protein build up. This was increased to every two hours. He also has Maxitrol (general antibiotic and steroid to stop inflammation), Timolol (to decrease eye pressure) and Atropin eye drops (to open the pupil). All these have to be given at certain rates, to certain eyes throughout the day. Fortunately Rosy is now very tolerant of these drops. I can stroke the top of his head on one side and talk to him. He then tilts his head and after a few misses I can drop the fluid either onto his open eye, or in the rear corner of his eye. The other night I slept all night and woke up feeling very guilty. Rosy has to sleep in a large kennel at the foot of my bed, so that I can get up and do this during the night. Now that I understand the purpose of these drugs I can give them according to what I feel is best needed.

I took photographs of both of his eyes last night. In the right eye, the one that had been “Phaco’ed” the protrusion was rapid, clearly defined and now retreating, but with an opaque look about it. I think I can discern a double bubble look about it. The end result may be that it will settle like a bridge across the pupil and obscure sight. Or it may continue to retreat and clear. There are small red spots on the Iris that I take to be small blood vessels that have been bruised.

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Rosy’s right eye (taken on 13th Sept)

By the 16th Sept, the growth had receded till it lies between the pupil. It seems to be distorting the pupil. You can clearly see the irregular nature of the pupil in the photograph. The eye has no pupil reflex now, and I assume that the fibrin is physically obstructing this process. It is also very opaque.

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Rosy’s right eye (Taken on 16th Sept)

The left (the lens of which was irrigated out and took longer), had a diffuse ill-defined protrusion. It is now discernable and has stringy “floaters” within it. In addition, there are dark spots that have floated to the fore of the anterior chamber and settled on the inside of the cornea. I think I can see what looks like a 4mm long capillary blood vessel and a diffuse matrix that is coloured red around it, in the protrusion.

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Rosy’s left eye (Taken on 13th Sept)

By the 16th, this had receded slightly and the dots lying on the inside of the cornea have elongated and appear to be being removed. Like the other eye there is no pupil reflex and the fibrin matrix is almost certainly bridging the pupil.

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Rosy’s left eye (Taken on on 16th sept)

Both these growths appear to be declining in size and retreating down the pupil. I would guess that the different viscosity of the fluids, the hazy floaters and the shape of the mass would combine to leave a confused visual pathway. Refraction within the protrusion may be enough to invert the image or scatter the light. Rosy is not as blind as he was prior to the surgery. He does open his eyes and scan the world around him. I think he sees light and dark. But most of the time he keeps his eyes shut. He did jump at a hand being swept across hi face the day after surgery, but now he does not.

Dan suggested that little could be done until it all settled down. Once that happens he feels confident that either Rosy can see, or he might have to operate again to take out the fibrin coat. The way it looks today I feel that he will need this additional surgery.

I understand that the operation will be much quicker. Dan explained that a similar thing occurs with children. The fibrin tent that forms across the pupil simply needs removal. But the machine that does this cannot be transported.

I am sure that Rosy has the strength to tolerate a much shorter procedure again. He hasn’t haltered one iota from his normal dominant self. Yes he may have been a bit depressed the first few days. But at noon these days he calls out his territory call as usual. I have no feeling that I have finally asked too much of him. He hasn’t thrown in the towel. Neither shall we.

Rosy: how he got his name

Jim asked if I could explain why Rosy was given this name. Rosy is a male. He is about as male as you can get. I have grown so used to accepting Rosy as a male’s name that I cannot understand the muddle some people get into when they refer to Rosy as a “she”. Rosy was first called Rossy, after a lady with a similar shaped nose. The late Peter Davey found Rosy in the Aberdare National Park under his nest tree in 1977. Sam Weller, the manager of the Ark, and his friends that included Rossy (Spurway), went in the middle of the night in the pouring rain to pick him up.

No-one knew Rossy to be a male back then. He was kept in an aviary, about the size of an outhouse for nearly a year. When I saw him sitting in the back of the wire shed it was obvious he had one weak wing. The story of how I got there and ran away from school to do so is long and arduous. Suffice it to say I knew Rossy was male the moment I saw him, because females are so much bigger. I had a girlfriend with whom I had a hopeless crush back at school called Rosemary Swift. I called Rossy, Rosie. He responded to this name as he would to Rossy, and so it stuck. As I lost contact with Rosie and I then made the fine distinction of calling Rosie, Rosy, a popular brand of lavatory paper. When asked, I would say he was named after this brand, but the truth is out now.

It made no difference to me that Rosy was a female name. It was a tough world. Perhaps by giving so huge and formidable an eagle a sissy female name, he would end up mean and tough. Johnny Cash had a famous song: “A man named Sue”. It was a story of a father naming his son Sue, so that he would grow up a fighter.

Well Rosy grew up a fighter all right. He has put many into hospital, killed dogs, and frightened thousands with his fierce glare. Right now his attitude is still serving him well. I do not regret for a moment naming a huge male Crowned Eagle, Rosy.

Rosy’s return home

I wish that I could report a miraculous recovery. But it is not so. There remains the agonizing uncertainty and he has a long way to go before the eyes clear up.
I had remained in Nairobi at the Cockar’s house on Sunday morning and this allowed Drs Barry Cockar, Dan Gardin and Nonee Magre to check on him. Putting the eye drops and drugs into his eyes was easy. What was noticeable was the extensive cloudiness of the cornea and general disruption of the anterior portion of the eye (That which is forward of the Iris). His eye pressure was slightly high in one eye and twice as high as it should be in the other. Unpredictably the eye that took nearly three times longer than the eye in which the Phaco was used was the better one.

The drive home was not that bad as it was a Sunday. Nevertheless a good portion of it is off road driving behind very dusty trucks. Rosy hung onto the front seat and did his best to stay upright. But the experience is not good for a sick patient with very sensitive eyes. I hate this road, as it has not helped in getting animals to and from treatment for the last 4 years. We arrived home and he had a quite warm day being left out on his perch. He is surrounded by familiar sounds and evidently this settled him. That night, he did react to a hand being moved in front of him. He was able to track me as I walked by him a meter away. I was euphoric.

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Rosy on his perch

On the Monday, I had hoped he would be better, but he was much the same. I stayed with him most of the day. Giving drugs to him now was a different story. Although quiet on his perch, the moment I start to attempt to apply a greasy ointment his head jerked back, and it all went across his face….not on his eye. Worse the process was in danger of injuring him. So I had to ask for Mwanzia and Jonathan to assist. The brute force way is very upsetting to him, and I have to weigh up the benefits as opposed to the trauma sustained in the struggle. I wish there was an easier way. Applying the drugs 8-10 times a day makes pulling the sheds down and sending the materials for construction at Naivasha a tough task. Sarah Higgins, the new “owner” of Rosy and Girl desperately needs to know the outcome of Rosy’s progress, as the cost of building the new breeding shed is a huge factor to us. If Rosy cannot see, then there is no point in building the new shed and Girl his wife should be released, despite her age. Rosy would then spend the rest of his life in a smaller shed. His life would not be that bad, but it would be a sad thing to accept after all this effort.

Concurrent to this, I am moving all my furniture and equipment, closing down the house, releasing Tim the Lanner, working on setting up a Lammergeyer release, getting car log books sorted, getting a visa, fixing a broken car, and outfitting for a year safari around Africa. All must be near complete by the end of this week!!

Email and communication via the cell phone came to a halt on Monday. Nonee was driving all the way out from Nairobi to check on his eye pressure, and so I stayed at home. It turned out that her car too broke down, and she had to post-pone the appointment to Tuesday. I was so overwhelmed on Monday that I gave up on all else and focused only on Rosy. I think I am trying to do too much.
On Monday, he was uninterested in a dead rabbit I gave him. Even if totally blind he would happily eat a rabbit, but not now. As it was attracting flies I took it away and force fed him by pushing food down his throat. He was very angry.

In the afternoon he was able to feed on the rabbit alone. But a measure of just how blind he is was gained by looking at the pair of cheeky Slender tail mongooses that live in the rock pile in the garden. They came out and fed on the rabbit within 2 feet of him. Had he seen them, or even registered a blur, he would have done something about it.

I resorted to using the camera to take pictures of what looks like a protruding transparent globe that is emerging from the pupil. The photograph clearly shows this to be true in his right eye. The mass seems to distort the pupil too. The other eye there is a cloudy mass that lies just forward of the pupil. The distinct boundary of the “bubble” in that eye is not so clear. The cornea itself seems to be less cloudy. The eye diameter seems larger, and it looks like it is bulging slightly. The intraocular pressure could explain this although I am giving the special eye drops to reduce this pressure. Nevertheless the protrusion is not as bad as it was. I feel that there is post operative reaction in the eye, with a confusion of anterior and posterior eye pressure, and perhaps some damage to the retina following high intraocular pressure.

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Rosy’s right eye

Dan phoned me on Monday and felt confident that this globular protrusion was fairly normal, but he would like to see it for himself. I include the picture here so that I can refer the doctors and specialist such as Dr Dan Gradin to it. (Another use for this blog!)
Today (Tuesday) Nonee drove all the way out to take his eye pressure. It is within limits. But she too noticed this strange protrusion and after conferring with Drs Dan Gradin and Barry Cockar, believed it was likely to be a result of fibrin coagulating. There are drugs that will help lessen this, which I shall get tomorrow. But Nonee was also disappointed in the lack of vision. We went over the procedure again and lamented the lack of equipment that would have allowed us to get a perfect dimension of the lens. But right now the lens is not the issue, it is the material that is being produced by the eye that is disturbing the visual pathway. Time will tell.

Laila and Paula have both asked that I keep the news updates going each day. I suspect Rosy’s progress will be slow, and I cannot think of too much to say. Paula said that I should be brave in asking for donations to continue. While we are all very grateful for the donation money received to cover the cost of the surgery, there are still outstanding settlements to cover costs of equipment and services. In addition comes the reality that Rosy’s post operative care and the building of their new shed will amount to at least some $3-4000, of which I would greatly appreciate any help. It was precisely these sorts of costs incurred during my latter tenure as a raptor rehabilitator that I failed to meet and obliged me to close down.

Rosy’s operation (Part II)

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After the excitement died down, and my stage fright had gone I looked around me at a room filled with 17 people. I had dreaded this day for nearly a year, and certainly the last 6 months my worries had got to the point that I was sure I would pass out at this crucial moment. As it approached the emails got more technical until it finally had to be my call. I opted for the soonest possible date, the smallest possible surgery, and whatever equipment we could muster. A course of action agreed by all. There was pressure. In that quiet moment I could see that every face was focused on Rosy. There were familiar faces. I was glad that Paula was there, she had known Rosy when she was a teenager too. A lot of people knew of Rosy but hadn’t seen him in the flesh. Rosy was and remains a small legend as far as raptors go in Africa. There were people here from all backgrounds and disciplines, and all working to save his sight.

I admit I felt ashamed. For the last few years I may have become less patriotic to my country of birth. I saw so few that truly cared for the wildlife and environment, and see ugly businessmen bulldozing pristine invaluable land for personal profit. They seem bent on taking it all. I came dangerously close to accepting it. This ill feeling conspired with a tangible lack of interest in my own raptor work that commenced a few years ago. This last year my own morale has improved but right then I knew I was surrounded by fellow Kenyans who cared greatly. I felt proud and I am not going to give up on Kenya. In fact I am fairly sure that it would have been very difficult to have got this many people together anywhere in the world………just for an animal.

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One lens was irrigated out, and this took some time. The acrylic lens was put it. Dan thought the lens went in very well. The other eye was done more quickly with the use of the Phaco. This needle tip has ultra sound that emulsifies the tissue. The soft material is sucked into the needle. This worked fast. I was able to see the lens being slipped into place and settled in its capsule. What surprised me was the lack of sutures. The whole operation takes place through so small a hole that on pulling the needle out the eye maintains its shape. There is no leakage.

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3 hours later and the operation was over. The look of relief on Barry and Nonee’s face showed just how tense the anesthesia part of it had been. We retired to a social tea and cakes arranged by Bernice on their verandah and lawn to talk it all over. People were elated, it had gone exceptionally well. I held Rosy in my arms keeping his head up.

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He was very groggy. He was handed around for photographs to nearly everybody. People were that happy.

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People left and I was shown my room in which we put a dog box and Rosy’s sole possession, his blue carpet. In this he was lain. Before dinner Barry went over every detail and re-enforced the need for this to be properly written up. It was ground breaking stuff. Yes it had been done before but the literature could certainly have space for this. Besides we had many specialists overseas who had been consulted, and it did make sense to publish a paper of some sort. It was a first for Africa.

I phoned Laila to tell her the news. She said that a lot of people were asking if he was OK. Laila was relieved and said that she would pass on the message as soon as possible.

I slept well that night. Too well. Barry woke me up at 3AM and we checked him again and put eye drops in.

The next morning Dan and Nonee came over to check on him. The eye pressure seemed too high and it is necessary to put special eye drops in frequently throughout the day and night.

I will write again tomorrow to let you all know how Rosy is doing now that he is back at home.

Cataract operation on Rosy the crowned eagle is a success!

Saturday the 7th Sept 2008 began early. It was difficult to sleep so I awoke before sunrise watching Tim the Lanner at the other end of the room do his morning preening session. Because the operation was to begin at 1pm, I thought it best to pack the car and leave for Nairobi at around 10AM. Rosy was taken out of his night shed and placed in the early sunlight. He is now accustomed to this and sat happily on his perch until Girl, his mate calls from the nearby shed. He calls back. I stared at him from the verandah and had second thoughts. “What if he died? “What if it was a failure and he would never see?” Today could be the end of an era, or a beginning of a new one.

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Photo Paula Kahumbu

I packed the car with his only belongings, a thick carpet, and walked out the back to pick him up with the thick triple leather glove. My heart was very down. I could not bare the thought of losing him, yet it had to be done. As he stepped onto the glove, he became angry at the untimely disturbance and crushed my hand beneath. Then searing pain hit me in the index finger as he punctured all three layers of leather, skin, flesh and tendon to be stopped by bone….my bone. I let out a howl, cursed him badly and marched him off to the car uttering bitter things. Thank goodness he did that as the moment was far too heartbreaking. Good old Rosy, as formidable as ever!

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Photo Paula Kahumbu

We arrived at Dr Barry Cockar’s Veterinary clinic after getting lost in Nairobi at about 11.45 AM, making record speed. Barry and Bernice his wife was there and insisted that I stay the night with them rather than drive back possibly late that night with a very sick eagle.

Dr Dan Gradin took us through the various stages of the surgery. The incision would be made almost at the part were the iris joins the cornea, and angled up to create a long tunnel. Then either a needle with a saline drip would be put in this hole, or a Phaco. Both techniques wash and suck out the damaged lens, after first puncturing the thick coated jacket in which it is housed. This capsule must be cut in the anterior part, but not the posterior…which remains intact. The lens maybe soft and easily removed or hard and difficult to remove. There was no way of knowing until you get there. The access is straightforward. The instrument goes in at the side then it is plunged down the pupil onto the lens which lies just behind. It is then ploughed out in shallow grooves. After removing this he would have to decide whether or not to put the lenses in. In other words the decision was to be made at the operating table.

Dr Nonee Magre came with the donated supplies from Ingeborg Fromberg of Acrivet, which included a CD of how to roll and house the lens in a special syringe-type applicator. Kaneto Mineto and Mr.Shiojiri Kichitaro of the Japan Wildlife Centre Kenya, who had earlier donated some $800 to this operation came, followed by Dr Paula Kahumbu of Wildlife Direct and Peter Greste who was to take documentary video of the proceedings. Dr Daniel Mundia and nurses Rose Louisa and Jane Huria of the PCEA Kikuyu Hospital Eye Unit. The small surgery was bulging with people.

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A little latter than planned, Rosy finally had the first anesthetic dose. This is hair-raising. For some reason patients like to talk to their surgeons before surgery, not to their anesthesiologist, the person that keeps them a hair’s breadth away from death. This was the part I feared the most, and said as much to Peter with a camera pointed in my face.

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Dr Cockar and Dr Mundia observing Dr Magre putting in the eye drops, Peter Greste filming for BBC

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Checking eye pressure

Both Barry and Nonee had it well covered with each taking turns to listen to his heart and breathing. In a few minutes his wings fell to his sides, his head rolled and he was out. He was laid on the table covered in sheets and had a special sheet placed over his eye, an eye clip a bit bigger than a paper clip, prized his eyelids open and soon all there was, was an isolated eye staring out of a sheet at a surgery filled with gowned and masked surgeons. My job was to hold his head so that his eye was static, and to do so unflinchingly, despite the wound that Rosy had inflicted on my hand earlier that day. I had a great view and was fascinated from the start as Dan talked all of us through it. Nonee and Barry were itching to get a closer look and Peter went so far as to stab most of the surgeons in the back of the head with the furry microphone boom of his camera, to get the closest possible pictures. Dan is a veteran of some 10,000 surgeries all on people, and it was clear that he too was fascinated by the avian eye, so much bigger and more advanced than a human’s.

He went straight to work and it was remarkable to see the skill and confidence. At the same time all of it made good sense. The eye is like a camera and so long as you restored all the functioning bits, it would work.

(I am waiting on some photographs and will post the second part of the story soon)

An update on Rosy

Rosy the male Crowned Eagle with cataracts was taken out of his shed three weeks ago. The measurements taken by Dr Tony Walia and Dr Nonee Magre at the Kikuyu Eye hospital were circulated by email and we received the great news that Ingeborg Fromberg, the head of Acrivet ([email protected]) had a few suitable lenses and other vital equipment which she wished to donate to us. It only needed a suitable box number and physical address to send it to. As I live in the sticks, the chances of having a postman driving out to my house carrying a parcel were pretty slim. Dr Nonee Magre offered the Kenya Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (KSPCA) as a suitable address.

Nonee phoned me back this morning (27th Aug) saying that there had been a bit of a delay with regard to being able to do the surgery at Kikuyu Eye Hospital. Dr Walia reassured me that the matter would resolve itself in a positive way. The centenary celebration of the hospital are coming up soon, and the operation on an eagle is mostly recognized as a wonderful PR opportunity, but a few things needed to be done in order to placate a few.

Unfortunately it looks like the operation date may have to be pushed a few more weeks!! I do not have a few more weeks. Rosy, as always, seems to contrive to destroy my plans. The last few months have been tough enough making the resolve to leave, releasing birds, and giving some away. Rosy, the pillar of my life, is unquestionably my nemesis too. He is my brother. I love him. He will win, he always does. It is a typical love / hate relationship.

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Girl (Photo by Dave Richards)

We are looking for another place to do the operation while we wait for the supplies to arrive. There is a more brutal approach to cataract operation involving a large incision of the cornea, and a manual extraction of the lens. Without the pin-hole type surgical equipment of today, this is how cataract surgery was done in the past. I even understood that the ancient Egyptians did something of the sort. But this would be a pity given that we do have the specialized equipment here.

Naturally, I could not help but wonder if the CITES regulations that successfully hindered his temporary export to South Africa for the operation could not at this late hour be reversed. But sadly there is no point in even trying, given that I still have not had a response from either South Africa or Kenya. Many have said it would take many months to get the permission, and the chances were slim.

I wrote a letter to my Mum the other day regarding Rosy and I deleted a cheesy comment that he was a part of my left arm. My Mum would scoff at that, as much as I do. It was not what I wanted to say. I dislike a spiritual approach regarding animals. No mystical gaze into the horizon to view my spiritual totem, and to seek their guidance etc. No there is no rainbow warrior insight, no heighten perception, for living with one eagle throughout my life.

When I went into Rosy and Girl’s shed to get him, he was a beast. Snatching and ripping at me and lifting three grown men off their feet in a single bench press of his legs. Biting and yelling at us while we put jesses back on him. I dreaded this moment for weeks and he did not disappoint us. We were pouring sweat and mid way through it I thought of my Dad, who passed away last year and how this would greatly amuse him. As a measure of his respect for Rosy, I noted in his old filing cabinet a file named “Rosy”. There was none of any other bird, animal or even of his children! He had written a script around Rosy, and a boy (me), and Rosy was one heck of a tough customer. Even now I reckon my Dad would have nothing but admiration for Rosy, as he sits outside on the lawn on his perch looking immaculate and proud. When Girl calls from her shed, Rosy calls back. The call is “This is my land”. Just as a lion’s roar. He owns with Girl a territory here and defended it for 16 years. I recorded him a few days ago and if I could figure it out I think I could share his call on this blog. Perhaps later.

What I meant to say to my Mum was that Rosy and I are back to our old relationship. I knelt down to pick him up talking to him the other day. He talked back. It is a very un-eagle like series of notes, but they portray worry, curiosity, concern, confidence and even gratitude. He cannot see a thing, not flinching even if I move my hand quickly to within an inch of his eyes. So when he steps gentle up onto the glove, he has to know it is there. He has to know it is me, for he hates others. The moment he is back on my arm he is happy. For fun I might work him into a pretend fury by growling at him and saying “Rosy is dozy and sometimes very dim!” The reaction I had from him 30 years ago has not changed one iota. Wham! He slams the glove. With evil passion he pummels the length of the glove making me wince in pain. Why I do it I do not know. But if ever I need a reminder of just how strong he is I do this (only with the 3 leather layers plus tyre reinforced glove). With his face an inch from mine he tends to bump his bill on my cheek or nose. He always did, and he does so now. We walk off, he perfectly balanced, my arm held in the same way that decades have taught us. I move, turn and place him back on his perch in a completely non-thinking manner and he like a dance partner follows my lead. You would not know he was blind. To say we are “one” is taking it far too far. But I should bet that few people have had relationships this close and this long….with anything, human or otherwise. Yes there is a sympathy, a prediction down to the finest movement of what the other thinks. It would be mad not to imagine that this is so.

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Magu in the sun

In an hour I shall be putting Vero’s, the Verreaux’s Eagle on a plane flown by Tobi Dunn, to be delivered to Martin Wheeler at Tassia Lodge in Ill Ngwesi, Samburu District. I have never met Martin. I knew of him a few years ago when I met his teacher the late Ron Hartley. Ron was the leader of Zimbabwean raptor work and certainly the greatest falconer Africa ever produced. Ron said Martin was a wild one, but a good falconer. I am trusting you Ron.

Right now my heart is down and I am desperately worried that I am doing the right thing by leaving next month. But I have to remind myself that I have no choice. Life depends upon work and income. This has come to an end and what I am doing, as much as it destroys me to do it, must be done for the birds.

Rosy and Girl’s new location

For those following the Crowned Eagle ‘saga’, it is important to separate two parallel issues. One is Rosy’s eye operation and the other is the closing down of my facility at Athi. The urgency to get Rosy’s eyes operated on does not depend upon the date I move out of Athi, nor the African expedition that Laila and I will do shortly thereafter. We all agree that Rosy comes first. But he demands daily maintenance now, and will do so for at least a week or two after the operation. So the sooner this is done the better for all parties.

The reason for leaving has already been outlined, but poor security and the increased cost of maintaining what amounts to a zoo summarises the difficulty in trying to do anything other than “holding the fort”. The decision to cease the raptor rehabilitation side of my life has upset a lot of close friends and relatives, but they all knew it had to stop, one day. They hope it will continue, as do I, once the foundation for it is firm and self sustaining. The plan is to release all those birds that can be released, find homes for the rest. In a country famous for its human/wildlife relationships such as depicted in “Born Free”, it is surprising to know that very few people are allowed to hold wildlife and options are very few and far between. I was not prepared to give the birds over to institutions or private collections that have (at their own self admission) not the facilities to keep the birds. To find Rosy and Girl a new home and new foster parents was going to be tough.

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Rosy with an egg (Photo by Laila bahaa-el-din)

I drove to Naivasha on the 13th August to meet Sarah and Mike Higgins who own a beautiful piece of property that looks onto a small wildlife conservancy of Crescent Island. Set among Yellow fever trees, the view out front is of uninterrupted passage of impala, giraffe and wildebeest. Yet just behind them is a working farm fringed by a tall hedge that demarcates their property from their neighbours. In here is the “veg patch”. Closer to the main house, Sarah built two very smart sheds for one of my old one winged Fish Eagles, and another for a pair of flightless Augur Buzzards. Somewhere between the two is a number of shrubbery filled sheds with an extremely fecund pair of Barn Owls and a rather sinister Spotted Eagle Owl who tucks herself up and stares over her shoulder with one half closed eye. Sarah is surrounded by her owls, and even has some Marsh Owls that come into the house at night and play with the curtains. Like all our birds, they are waifs and strays, one winged, one eyed wrecks that have no hope other than captivity. I was very late in realizing that we shared a common interest although I have known Sarah for a long time. But when I asked for help, there was no question of backing out.

With the smaller raptors, it wasn’t too much to ask. They did not need anything more than just a shed. But with the Crowned Eagles, it is a very different matter as if alarmed, this eagle could put you in hospital or worse. Sarah knows this and is very anxious that the birds will have a good home and continue to breed.

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Duchess, one of Rosy’s and Girl’s offspring, that was successfully released last year (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

Nothing can beat the way these eagles were housed before. On Game Ranching Athi River, they could sit and stare out over tens of thousands of acres of uninterrupted plains and watch the giraffe and wildebeest wander by in their hundreds. A few weeks ago, I saw Girl staring hard at the only decent sized acacia tree about 200m distant. I thought she was daft, but double checked to see, just see with strong binoculars, the tops of ears of two, maybe more cheetah. There is no question that the peace and tranquility of such a scene, plus the sometimes naturally occurring alarming events make the pair feel they have a territory and a place to defend. When a Martial or a Tawny Eagle flies low over the house they call out and get very protective. It is all part of the daily routine that gets them into breeding condition.

In Naivasha, the situation will be different and they will have to contend with the constant hum of distant tractors, people’s voices, arrival of cars which less sensitive raptors would learn to ignore quickly. But Crowned Eagles are truly leopards in their shyness and suspicion of all things. With good planning, however, it is possible that they can get almost exactly the same design shed, and with luck, when Rosy is better…….they will continue to breed.

When it comes to weighing up options, the most demanding criteria is whether or not the people looking after the eagles care. And Sarah cares, a lot.

So it is settled. In the next few weeks, I will be shuttling materials from Athi to Naivasha to build a duplicate shed. Sarah will become their guardian until such a time as Laila and I return, and if and when I can find a new location.

Rosy’s trip to the eye hospital

Rosy’s Cataract Operation – Chapter 4

This morning, I left the house with Rosy at 7.30AM and arrived at the Kikuyu Eye Hospital at 11.50AM. It is a distance of only 65 Km took over 4hrs. The street hawkers enquired how he was, having remembered him from last week. I made a wise choice in not sedating him with valium as he could easily have died of heat stroke had he not been able to stand and pant.

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Kikuyu Eye Hospital is one of the busiest units in Africa. Dr Nonee Magre met us in the car park and we were shown round the back where we met Dr Tony Walia. We anaesthetized Rosy, using about 1/3rd the recommended dose which put him under sufficient for two instruments to be placed on his eyeball by he and his team.

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Nonee Magre

The first is termed a kerato-metre, its task is to measure the curvature of the cornea. It was working fine, but it could not get data on so large an eye. The other instrument looked like a laser pointer used at lectures, but for it having a huge machine attached to it. It measured the diopter size, the depth of the lens and the diameter. One eye was 10.5mm and the other was 12mm. Twice the size of a human’s. Dr Walia showed us a human lens (it cost $4!). It has two curled spines that keep the lens in the exact place.

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I opted to drive home while Rosy was still groggy. He lay near the gear stick and every now and then I was able to check on his breathing. The dosage rates suggested by literature are about two to four times more than is necessary. Fortunately we were conservative and his recovery was slow but sure. In the late afternoon I sat with him till he got better. He spent the evening in my room.

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Back Home

Now comes the hard part. These measurements must be sent to USA to have the lens made. In the next few days, Dr Nonee and I will try to pin down the companies and get this complete. It hasn’t been easy so far, so wish us luck.

Rosy’s trip to Nairobi

Rosy’s trip to Nairobi. Chapter 4

This morning, I took Rosy to Nairobi to meet up with Dr Nonee Magre before going on to see Dr Tony Walia, an eye surgeon from Kikuyu Eye Hospital. The drive in took 3 hrs. Rosy was very hot and stressed, sitting hooded on a blanket-covered spare wheel in the back of the car. Although it is an acknowledged fact that the Mombasa road is a total mess, the bouncing and flapping of Rosy in the back seemed to reinforce just how terrible it truly is. Stuck in standstill traffic for half an hour surrounded by amazed on-lookers and street hawkers (selling maps, dubious DVDs, awful sentimental paintings, toy helicopters, sun glasses, and a thing that sheds cabbage), I managed to calm a hot temper by answering questions, some of which were fairly well informed.

Stuck in the traffic, I opened my emails on my cell phone. Laila told me that donations were coming in for Rosy! I have yet to see the blog or know what is going on, but thank those who are helping. More than anything, it is great to see that people care about an eagle.

Outside of his breeding shed, and away from his mate for the first time in years, he tried to gather his hurt pride. He squeezed my glove hard and his talons went right through 3 layers of saddle hide leather! Girl, his mate, kept calling every ten minutes. Rosy would call back. The territory call of a Crowned Eagle is melodic and wild. Here, confined by jesses and tied to a block and blind, it was upsetting to see. But it does mean he has every wish to hold onto to his title as the master of this territory.

What was very disturbing was the extent of his blindness. I could sweep my hand to an inch of his face, and he saw nothing! Yet yesterday he sat on a small stump in his shed and fed unaided. He must have learnt how to feed himself by touch. He must have located the food by listening to it landing, or it being eaten by Girl. In the shed, he was like a blind man in his own house. Outside, he is out of place.

I put him on a perch, but he soon leapt off it at me in an act of defiance. In the late evening, I put him in a small mews for the night. I became reflective last night and retired far too early to bed.

Dr. Nonee was very helpful and led the way to Dr Walia’s house in Westlands. He had injured his right elbow and was taking a few days off work. Surrounded by his family in his garage, with and arm in a sling, he immediately said that it was cataracts. It was the first confirmed diagnosis by an eye specialist. He noted that the pupil reflex was fine and that the “visual pathway” was good. Like other surgeons, he was amazed at the size of the eye, saying that the lens diameter looked to be over twice that of a human. He suggested that we go through the following stages:

  1. Return Tuesday to get his eye measured at the Kikuyu Eye Hospital. This would require sedation and the use of an ultrasound placed on his cornea.
  2. Send the measurements, realizing the limitations of the measurements, to make comparisons with other species of eagles that may possibly have had lenses made for them. Using the most likely measurements and comparisons to other similar lenses, ask a (as yet unidentified) company in USA to make them ASAP and post them back. In the meantime, put Rosy on atropine ointment to dilate the pupil so that he might see something.
  3. The operation itself, all supposing the lenses make it and are of the flexible type that can be rolled and fed through a small incision, should not be too difficult. The date for that depends entirely on the speed of postage and manufacture of the lenses.

The drive back was not as bad, and although it did consume the better part of the day, it was a first step in the right direction. In weighing up all the variables, I favour this option for the primary reason that Kikuyu Eye Hospital is a three or four hour drive at most. South Africa is too far, besides my application letter outlining the situation and requesting assistance in the issuance of CITES has not been acknowledged, and is never likely to as the export differs in important details. A possible choice of going to the Kenya coastal eye hospital at Kwale will require a traumatic 250 mile drive. There would be no place to house him either. 

I was encouraged at the interest that both Dr. Nonee Magre and Dr. Walia showed in Rosy. The decision is now made to go ahead with this option.

PS. While feeding Rosy, I let Tim and Lucy (the lanners) off to play. Only Tim came back in near darkness. This is Lucy’s first night out.