Wildlife 101

June 7, 2010

Dear Stella,

You don’t know what it’s like to be stared at until you are stared at by one of these:

And one of these:

And one of these:

The first is a great horned owl, the second a barred owl, and the third, the amazingly seemingly pre-historic raptor.

I was stared at by each of these birds Saturday, at my Orientation at the Pennsylvania Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. In a lock-down stare with an owl or a raptor, even though it is in the cage and I am not, somehow it seems to win. That is one intense stare, man, made even more intense by the fact that the stare is incomprehensible. There is no projecting when it comes to a raptor; I can’t say, Oh look, he likes me, or He wants my attention, like we are apt to do with our dogs and cats, myself included. It just doesn’t fit. There is nothing about the stare of one of these wild creatures that lends itself to familiar meanings.

And that’s a good thing. When the animal becomes predictable, when it depends too much on humans for food or company, we have essentially taken away its ability to survive. If it’s released back into the wild, it won’t have a clue what to do. I heard stories, like the hawk that broke into the food supply because it didn’t know how to hunt, then broke its neck on the way out. And the crow I had the strange pleasure of meeting who had a penchant for “s” words—“swell” and “shit”—did you know that crows are super smart? We just never hear them speaking our language because they aren’t around us, aren’t supposed to be around us, so we don’t know what they can or cannot say, or do. We are used to domesticated parrots talking, but take my word for it, a speaking crow is a strange sight to behold, like a speaking alligator or lion.

I feel giddy with excitement and nervousness about my newest adventure. I’ve been here before, haven’t I? At the edge of a new knowledge, unsure if I can pull it off. But this time, instead of making mojitos and margaritas and negotiating the needs of a drunken crowd, I’ll be learning how to rehabilitate wild animals like the owls and the crow and the raptor. Which means I’ll be feeding them and treating them and sometimes, if necessary, ending their lives if their suffering is too great and they can’t be treated.

Will I have the stomach for working so closely with wounded animals? For seeing them hurt and hearing their cries?

Will I be able to have a steady hand in order to give an injection of medicine or clean an animal’s wound?

The orientation leader said, “You’ll see some things and it will be hard and you’ll wonder why it has to be so.”

Apparently, 90% of the injuries the wildlife sustains are from humans. Either they get hit by cars or they fly into cars or they are accidentally shot or they are tortured. One tiny creature was saved from a band of boys stoning it to death. Who are these people? Why does it have to be so? I am often overwhelmed by such knowledge—that there are people who stone baby animals, that as I write this oil is killing more animals than I can even imagine—and rendered paralyzed. I don’t want to be paralyzed. I want to do one small thing, at least.

As it was with bartending, I don’t have any idea what I can do and what I can take and where this might lead. But this is, for me, an era of trying and of doing. And of overcoming despair in favor of hope.

love,
stephanie

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