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PO Box 1037
Lynnwood, WA 98046
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
When I am explaining to others what it is like to witness an animal
being returned to the wild, I find myself repeatedly using a light bulb
analogy. Releasing a wild animal is like turning on a light bulb. It
may sound strange, even inappropriate considering that a light bulb is
an inanimate object and wild animals are living, feeling beings. I hope
that the following explanation will clarify the analogy for you.
Imagine looking at an unlit light bulb that is in perfect working
condition. The glass is smooth, the filament is not broken and the
metal is not bent or damaged in any way. You may find the bulb
aesthetically pleasing, but in its non-electrified state it seems to
have limited function. It can definitely be recognized as a light bulb,
but it is not showing its true potential.
Now imagine that the bulb is screwed into a socket and the light switch
is turned on. Electricity courses through the filament and resistance
causes it to heat to the point at which it radiates light. The bulb's
full potential is released when
A Northern Harrier gets its first taste of freedom after receiving care at PAWS Wildlife Center.
the electricity is added and it transforms from something that is
merely aesthetically pleasing into something that is completely
brilliant. For someone who has never seen a light bulb in its lit
state, it is easy to believe that the glass, metal and filament are all
that there is to see. However, once you have observed the bulb in its
lit state, you will never look at the dim bulb the same way again.
The same principle applies to a wild animal in captivity. Imagine a
healthy red-tailed hawk in a cage. The bird's needs for food, shelter
and water have been provided for and, to the inexperienced eye, she
appears to be a content and complete being. The hawk eats, drinks,
preens her feathers, and flies in the limited space that she has. She
sleeps at night. There is a fire in the bird's eyes and she seems
vital, alert and alive. Like the unlit bulb, however, in this
environment the bird seems to have limited function. The animal is
easily recognizable as a red-tailed hawk, but her range of behavior has
been reduced to what is allowed by human-induced constraints and
schedules. Someone who has never seen a red-tailed hawk without these
artificial constraints may believe that they are seeing all that there
is to see.
This Juvenile mink is currently under care at the PAWS Wildlife Center.
Now imagine that the hawk is placed in a transport carrier and taken to
a huge field surrounded by mixed forest. The carrier is placed in the
middle of the field and the cage door is opened. Opening the door is
analogous to throwing the light switch, and electricity is provided in
the form of newly realized freedom. As the hawk exits the carrier a
dramatic transformation occurs. No longer is she subjected to
human-induced limitations on movement, eating or any other factors. No
longer are other beings, no matter how well intentioned, imposing their
will on her. There are choices to be made and it is entirely up to her
to make them. Senses that had been irrelevant, even detrimental to
survival in captivity suddenly become essential again. Tension that can
only be attributed to extreme excitement visibly takes a hold on the
hawk's body as it registers that the new surroundings fit the habitat
paradigm in her mind. The fire that had been present in her eyes while
in captivity was a mere spark compared to the inferno that burns there
now. She makes her first choice with her newfound independence and
bursts into the sky.
After being found on a doorstep and dropped off at a pet store, this juvenile mountain beaver was brought to PAWS.
As the hawk leaves the ground it becomes abundantly clear that this is
not the same animal that was visible in the cage. The distinction
between the words "captive red-tailed hawk" and "red-tailed hawk"
become as clear as the distinction between the words "night" and "day".
The uncertainty in the bird's movement that was noticeable in captivity
is gone in an instant. Her instincts are again relevant and she is
finally free to respond to them fully. The hawk is restored to her
proper context in the world and her entire body radiates confidence in
this fact. Her full potential is now realized and the hawk glows with
an energy that is far more brilliant than that given out by even the
brightest electrified bulb.
I witness this "light bulb effect" several hundred times a year in the
course of my work. It is an extremely powerful experience to watch an
animal as it takes back control of its life. As I drive down I-5 and
see hawk after hawk perched on light poles alongside the road, I cant
help but smile as I realize the appropriateness of their chosen roost.
Wildlife Release tally: June 26 to July 9, 2002
11 American Crows
1 Rock Dove
1 Band-tailed Pigeon
1 Mountain Beaver
2 N. Flickers
1 Bewick's Wren
1 Wood Duck
3 Townsend's Chipmunks
1 Short-tailed Weasel
10 English House Sparrows
1 Song Sparrow
1 House Finch
13 Virginia Opossums
1 Big Brown Bat
1 Barn Owl
5 Eastern Cottontails
3 Eastern Gray Squirrels
1 Pacific Tree Frog
Wildlife Release tally: 2002 Year to Date
607 mammals and birds
All rights reserved. ©2002 Progressive Animal Welfare Society