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December 23, 2011

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Home » Feature » Animal Planet

Owls returned to the wild

ON an overcast day near the seaside of rural Fengxian District, a grass owl hesitated for a few seconds after the box it was put in opened. He then jumped onto the ground to adapt to the "new environment" for a few seconds before expanding its wings and flying off into the wilderness.

Not far away, staff workers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare Beijing Raptor Rescue Center (IFAW BRRC) and the Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau watched.

It was the third time IFWA BRRC helped return rescued owls in Shanghai. Also in Fengxian the same day, an Asia barred owl was released in the thick woods at Shanghai Gulf National Forest Park, a habitat more suitable for it to live.

Both grass owls and Asia barred owls are under second-class protection in China.

According to Crane Zhang, an owl specialist at IFAW BRRC, Asia barred owls are found in areas south of the Yellow River and grass owls in regions south of the Yangtze River.

"Neither of these species is found in Beijing as the temperature does not suit them and their natural prey cannot be found in the region," Zhang said. "These two owls were most likely illegally captured, transported and sold in Beijing as exotic pets."

In November, four owls were rescued by a fishing gear shop owner when a burglar was trying to sell them as exotic pets. The four birds were stuffed in a small plastic basket and looked weak. The store owner knew the birds were rare and under state protection, so he contacted IFAW BRRC.

"The owls were extremely weak and their feathers were badly damaged because of the illegal capture and transportation in poor conditions over a long distance. They were also under a lot of stress after being locked up in a small basket," added Zhang.

Only two birds survived. At IFAW BRRC, owl specialists gave the birds thorough check-ups and created detailed rehabilitation plans. After three weeks of treatment, the owls were in good health and ready to be released.

Helping the wild birds return to nature requires scientific support and professional help. The bird needs to be fully recovered, has to be released in its natural habitat and at the right time (never release a nocturnal animal in bright sunlight).

There have been some instances where well-meaning people released owls back into nature by putting the birds in their hands and then threw them into the air on a sunny day. The owls fell to the ground and died.

"That's why we must release these two birds in Shanghai and we need to put the bird on the ground and let it make its own way," Zhang added. The BRRC workers contacted the Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau and found Fengxian was an ideal habitat for the two owls.

Lisa Hua, IFAW's China campaign manager, said it was a nice moment when the owls were returned to the wild.

"We are very happy to see these two owls returned to their home," Hua said. "Many wild animals lose their lives every day in the trading chain. If anyone encounters a raptor or a wild animal dealer, please contact the relevant law enforcement agencies."

Jeff He from the BRRC told Shanghai Daily that they have saved more than 3,000 birds of prey since being founded 10 years ago.

"This is really a great accomplishment," He said. "But 3,000 birds are traded everyday at the wild birds trading market in Beijing alone, that's pretty frustrating."

He said owls are wild birds that are not suitable for keeping as pets.

"Many owl lovers think they can take care of these birds by giving them well cooked meat and a comfortable cage," he said. "But they suffer mentally and physically."

(Shanghai Daily/IFAW BRRC)

More About Raptors

Raptors are carnivorous birds that feed mostly on small animals. They are divided into two categories: Strigiformes and Falconiformes. Falconiformes are mostly active during the day. They include eagles, falcons, vultures of various kinds, hawks, buzzards and condors. Strigiformes, also known as owls, are mostly nocturnal. All raptors have keen eyesight, highly developed hearing, powerful legs and sharp beaks and claws.

Birds of prey occupy the top of the food chain. They have an irreplaceable function in controlling rodent populations and in maintaining a healthy ecological balance. Because of their extremely small numbers, the Chinese government has put all raptors under high-priority protection.

Rapid urban expansion has resulted in reduced food resources for birds of prey and damage to their habitat. At the same time, illegal trade in exotic birds has led to more poaching, which is also a serious threat to their survival.

What can you do to help raptors?

Helping raptors requires everyone's participation and support. You can help.

Do not buy, catch or raise birds of prey. Do not eat raptors or any other wild animals or their byproducts.

Do not pick up young raptors; leave them alone so their parents can care for them.

If you find a sick or injured bird of prey, contact a professional rescue organization.

Help spread the word about protecting birds of prey.


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