Saving endangered birds of prey is tough business, but someone has to do it. The work is a swamp of complicating factors, and you wonder if a person has to be insane to do this for a living.
First there is the location. Endangered species know no boundaries and wildlife aren’t interested in the comforts of a salon. If you are working with the Ridgway’s Hawk for example, you find yourself in the Dominican Republic, hiking the rainforest-covered rolling hills of karst limestone. Think 90º F, 85% humidity, jagged limestone that will slice your boot soles, and mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. Or how about Madagascar. It can take days to drive from the nearest city to the field site, crossing rivers with a 4-wheel drive truck equipped with a snorkel for river crossings (I kid you not), carrying all your equipment and food with you. You have to be hardy in the extreme, and never mind the mosquitoes bearing malaria and sand flies that carry leishmaniasis. Never heard of leishmaniasis? It is one of the worst tropical diseases, and symptoms range from open wounds in your skin, the dissolving of cartilage in your face until your nose is lost, and permanent or lethal damage to your liver or spleen. I dare you to do an Internet search for images of leishmaniasis
Then there is the work itself. Depending on your location, you may have to work around crocodiles in Australia, grizzly bears in Alaska, tigers in India, lions in Africa, or worse, elephant poachers and guerilla rebels carrying automatic rifles and trained to shoot first and forget the questions.
To find a raptor nest you might hike for four hours, and that after a ride on a snow mobile, ATV, or dugout canoe. To enter a raptor nest might require rappelling cliffs, or scaling trees. And then there are the parents. Adult raptors don’t take kindly to people who want to scramble around with their eggs or chicks. Some raptors are harmless and will leave you alone. Some have a grip that will crush your hand and talons that can inflict serious damage. Climb into the nest of a Harpy Eagle and you are on their turf, and don’t expect mercy. Try and forget that you are two days from a hospital – it will make climbing 150 feet up the nest tree a bit easier.
By now you get the picture. Raptor biologists are badass, or insane, or both. Saving endangered birds of prey is serious business and takes the right kind of person. But who saves the person who saves the birds of prey? To answer that question I turn to the art, and the brotherhood, of arboriculture.
Arborists, like raptor biologists, do the hard work that no sane person would attempt. They are the men and women who care for trees. They climb trees to remove limbs with chainsaws, remove entire trees hundreds of feet tall from the tallest leaf down to the ground, and generally care for the well-being of trees and people living together.
What I love about arboriculture is that arborists have a brotherhood. They have to. When you are limbwalking with a chainsaw, one wrong move could mean death.
To do this work you have to trust the guy, or girl, who has got your back. On a different day you watch theirs. This connection creates a bond, one that, like raptor biology, knows no boundaries. When it comes to the art and science of tree climbing, Arborists are the Rembrandts and Edisons of the tree universe. If you want to learn to climb trees properly, go to a tree climbing instructor. That’s what I did. And when you know enough about tree climbing, pay it forward – teach others.
A few weeks from now in October a climbing biologist (yours truly) and some arborists and climbing instructors from the Pacific Northwest of the Unites States – where proper trees grow – are heading to a conference in Costa Rica to teach raptor biologists from Latin America how to safely access raptors nests in trees. There is a wrinkle to this plan, though. Latin American biologists coming to the workshop can’t afford and don’t have access to true tree climbing gear. Teaching is one thing, providing thousands of dollars of equipment needed to keep tree climbers safe is another. WesSpur and TreeStuff generously donated a pile of fantastic gear, but it wasn’t enough. At the 11th hour I turned to climbing arborists at a conference of the International Society of Arboriculture. These are the men and women who do the work of arboriculture. Back-breaking work. Life-on-the-line work. And they know about the brotherhood. When I made a call for donated equipment to keep their brothers and sisters in Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina safe, nearly $1000 of equipment flowed in, personal gear paid for in blood and sweat. Check it out.
I’m talking like this: 33 carabiners, 13 slings and split-tails, 6 pulleys, 4 ascenders, 1 throw cube with throw bags and line, 3 rings, 1 harness, 3 Andrew Jacksons, 1 Alexander Hamilton, and 1 Benjamin Franklin.
Saving species. Saving lives. Brothers in arms.
This blog is donated with open arms to a brother named Bill in his hour of need.
Thanks to the hard working arborists of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of ISA for caring. You blew me away.
Photos provided by Roger Barnett and Roy Toft.
Signs by Tomorrow created the cool sign that set the stage.
To learn more about Arboriculture, visit Climbing Arborist.