Wednesday, October 22nd, 2003

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Progressive Animal
Welfare Society

PO Box 1037
Lynnwood, WA 98046

Kevin Mack
Everything but the Little Green Men…
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

I often try to imagine what it must be like to experience the rehabilitation process from a wild animal's perspective. I find that this is extremely difficult to do. I don't truly know how another species experiences the world on a normal day, let alone when they are placed in extremely unfamiliar circumstances. Based on the way wild animals behave during treatment I think it is safe to say that they don't understand their injuries, they don't understand where they are, and they certainly don't understand what their caretakers are doing to them. Since I can't possibly hope to get inside their heads, all I can do is go the anthropomorphic route and try to imagine what kind of a situation would cause me to behave in a manner similar to theirs. Perhaps I read one too many stories as a child, but only one analogy pops into my head-- wildlife rehabilitation is the wild animal's equivalent of an alien abduction. I know it sounds silly, but consider the following example.

Three weeks ago a Sharp-shinned Hawk was flying around on the outskirts of Buckley. A window, camouflaged with the reflection of the surrounding vegetation, abruptly halted his flight. He was knocked unconscious and fell to the ground. When he came to, he was in a strange dark place (A box in a garage actually. The homeowners had found him, boxed him up, and put him in the garage while they called PAWS). He broke his way out of the dark place, flying towards the light and back into familiar territory. He was apparently pretty committed to his original flight path, however, as he flew directly into the same window he had hit before. For the second time he was knocked unconscious by an unseen force.

When the hawk regained consciousness for the second time, he was in the dark again. He was now experiencing a sensation of motion and he was surrounded by an unfamiliar rumbling sound. The hawk had no frame of reference for the experience as he had, up to that point, only experienced motion that he controlled. Nothing in a Sharp-shinned Hawks usual repertoire of behavior prepares it for the feeling of being a passenger, and nothing in any wild animal's behavioral repertoire prepares it for being a captive.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

This Sharp-shinned Hawk found himself in an alien situation after being rendered unconscious by an unseen force.

The feeling of motion continued for a period of time, and then both motion and noise ceased. At this point the hawk experienced a different feeling of motion (as his box was picked up and walked into PAWS). He heard strange voices that he could not understand. The feeling of movement stopped (as his box was placed on the counter in the exam room), and then all was quiet for a while. The most frightening experiences for the bird were yet to come.

After a few moments of peace and quiet, the hawk heard a noise nearby and could hear two strange creatures (no offense to any of the staff!) entering the room. Suddenly light burst into his container and a mostly hairless bipedal creature with long arms, large eyes, and pale skin reached in and grabbed him. He struggled, but to no avail. He found himself held down on a metal table surrounded by stark white walls. A bright light shined down on him from the ceiling above. As one creature held him, another poked, prodded, and probed him from every angle. Strange devices were used on him (thermometer, ophthalmoscope, needle and syringe), and a foreign object was attached to his leg (band). He was then carried down a long, brightly lit hallway and placed in a small, dark area. All was quiet again…for a time.

For the next several days, the hawk was periodically grabbed, examined, and probed (he required medications for head trauma that were given via injection) by the creatures that held him captive. The probing eventually ceased and he was moved to a much larger space with light and fresh air. Things were becoming more familiar, and he could fly again, but he was still being held captive for reasons he could not understand. Periodically his captors would enter the area in which he was held prisoner, causing him great distress. They would move around his space for several minutes before disappearing out the door. For some reason, food was always easily found after they left. His space seemed cleaner after these visits as well. These daily visits went on for about a week.

On October 15th, two of the hawk's captors entered his cell and caught him in a net. The creatures removed the strange object that was attached to his leg, and placed him in a much smaller, darker cage. Dim light filtered into his new cage from small, evenly spaced holes above and to the sides of him. He sensed motion again as he was lifted and moved. Once again he heard the strange rumbling sound that he had first heard on the day of his injury. Once again he was experiencing the feeling of rapid movement that was out of his control. This continued for some time, and then it ceased. The rumbling noise faltered and died away. He heard the voices of his captors as they picked up his container and carried him a short distance before putting him down. The voices were heard once more and then all was silent, except for the sound of running water nearby. The hawk waited for whatever was coming next.

SS Hawk release

His image blurred by rapid movement, the Sharp-shinned Hawk escapes the clutches of one of the bizarre creatures that held him.

As the hawk waited, the unexpected happened. Suddenly light streamed down from above, and when the bird looked up he saw the familiar trees and sky of his home. He burst towards the light, and in an instant he was free. He alighted on a branch, noticed the river to his left, and then looked back over his shoulder at the beings that had held him captive. One had a strange device (camera) attached to its face. The device seemed to have a huge circular eye and the being was pointing it right at him. Unnerved by the sight, the hawk took flight and disappeared into the trees leaving the nightmare of his abduction behind him. The two strange creatures that had released him climbed back into their vehicle and returned to the mother ship.

So there you have it. I think the similarity of the hawks experience to a run-of-the-mill alien abduction story is striking. It's doubtful that the Sharp-shinned Hawk will be able to recount his harrowing story to other birds in his area. This is probably for the best. If he could tell the story it is very unlikely that any of his fellow hawks would believe him…

Wildlife Release tally: October 1st to October 14th, 2003

1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Chestnut-backed Chickadee
2 Virginia Opossums
1 House Sparrow
1 Winter Wren
1 Glaucous-winged Gull
1 Rock Pigeon
1 Red-breasted Sapsucker
1 American Robin
2 Eastern Cottontails
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
9 Eastern Gray Squirrels
1 Northern Flicker

Wildlife Release tally: 2003
1,000 animals

All rights reserved. 2003 Progressive Animal Welfare Society