Wednesday, July 17, 2002

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Progressive Animal
Welfare Society

PO Box 1037
Lynnwood, WA 98046

Kevin Mack
Luminous Beings
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

Watch the Video

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.

Mink

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.

Beaver

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

28 Mallards
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
2 Killdeer
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

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