Friday, July 1, 2011

Rocky Mountain Raptor Program
The Rocky Mountain Raptor Program is amazing program based out of Fort Collins, CO. I lived in Colorado for a few years and I volunteered with them during my time there. They perform great services both for the birds and the surrounding community.

For those who don't know raptors, or birds of prey, are birds that hunt almost exclusively with their feet. This includes Owls, Eagles, Falcons, Hawks, Osprey, and (depending who and when you ask) Turkey Vultures.

The motto of RMRP is "A Second Chance at Freedom." RMRP receives birds brought in from the humane society, national park service, or anyone who calls reporting an injured bird. Most of the time the highly trained staff will go out themselves and retrieve the injured animal and rush it back to the RMRP building. There medical staff, along with a small horde of trained volunteers, will treat the birds as well as humanly possible. The most common injuries I saw in my time there were car collisions and West Nile Virus; birds were also injured as chicks falling out of the nest, from electrocution (electric fences), from gunshots, to name off a few. The crews patch them up as best they can, give them fresh food, a warm place to sleep, and then wait. The lucky ones begin the healing process, the first step toward release.
A shorter life in the wild is better than a long life in captivity.

It is the mission of RMRP to release as many birds as possible back into the wild. There are numerous flight cages where the birds can gain back their strength and confidence again in preparation for release. Some birds, because of their injuries, are unable to return to the wild. Under National and State Guidlines raptors are only allowed to be kept in captivity if they have a positive quality of life, proven by their ability to "work" so many days a year. At RMRP this work takes the form of the Educational Ambasadors. These permanently disabled birds have some injury that kept them from being returned to the wild. In exchange for their free room and board these birds go to various events and functions, heavily supervised by those volunteers trained to work with them.

The educational ambassadors act as living breathing educational tools. While it is interesting to talk about birds, the environment, and habitat conservation, nothing brings home the point than a wild bird sitting on your fist. While the birds go through training and listen to a select set of commands, they are still very much wild animals, worthy of respect and caution. If nothing else the impressive talons, beaks, wings, and feathers makes them impossible to ignore. RMRP shows up at the Colorado Renaissance Festival, a variety of different local festivals and holiday celebrations, come to private events, classrooms, etc.

As a volunteer I had the opportunity to partake in the both training paths, medical and educational. The program is structured so that the more time you spend with the program the more responsibilities you take on. At the beginning level you are doing cage cleaning and food preparation (who knows how to clean a chicken, rabbit, and prairie dog? I DO!). Though you never get away from these basic tasks you eventually graduate to handling the educational birds, from smallest to largest, and performing ever more complex medical tasks. With the supervision of the amazing staff, volunteers help make care for all these birds possible.

Starting off as an extension of the Colorado State vet program, the RMRP has morphed into a full nonprofit of its own. The program continues to change and grow but their mission always remains the same. Not only do they help the injured birds themselves but they also help teach the public what they can do. Though I'm no longer living in Colorado I will always remember my time there with joy. I started there hoping to bring in a few volunteer hours. I ended up working every weekend at Ren fest and a few treatments during the week the summer I stayed there. And the more I did there the more I felt I could, and should, be giving more of myself.

1 comment:

  1. AGREED! The RMRP is such an amazing experience I recommended it to everyone! Even if your not into birds, there is so much to learn that by the end of a month you will be into them wholeheartedly!