I first learned about Raptor Education Group Inc. (REGI) in January 2002. I read an article in the Wisconsin State Journal about an organization that was releasing 15 rehabilitated bald eagles on the Wisconsin River in Sauk City, Wisconsin. The article touched me because my mother had passed away in the spring of 2001, and she always had a great love for our family’s land in Wisconsin and the eagles that frequented its skies. I thought I would find out more about this organization and possibly donate some money in the name of my mother. I thought there would be no better way to honor her than by helping these birds she loved so much, so that her grandchildren might be able stare up into the sky with awe someday. In autumn of 2002, the fARM sponsored an immature bald eagle that had fallen out of her nest. She was nurtured through the winter of 2002 by foster-parent bald eagles at REGI. On January 31, 2003, she was released back into the wild on the Wisconsin River in Sauk City. She was named Pris after my late mother. The photo on the right was taken at the exact moment she was set free.
REGI is a non-for-profit bird rehabilitation center in Antigo, Wisconsin. The center nurses and nurtures injured and orphaned wild birds of all species. Its mission is not only to rehabilitate but also to educate the public about the importance of preserving native bird species. REGI’s most prominent patients are the large predatory birds known as raptors. These are birds of prey, such as hawks, falcons, eagles, vultures, and owls.
REGI was founded by Marge Gibson, a native of Wisconsin who has devoted her life to the nursing of nature. Before founding REGI, she worked on the California Condor Project, helping that near-extinct species re-establish itself in southern California. In 1989 she was a team captain for the Bald Eagle Health Assessment Project, which dealt with the aftermath of the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. After her experience in Alaska, she decided to return to Wisconsin to found REGI. Marge is an engaging and incredible individual. She started REGI with her own funds on her own land. She receives no funding from the state or national government, though the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources brings injured birds into the center.
REGI provides medical attention to birds that have been injured by hands of men or by the regular trials of living free in nature. Many birds must stay at the center for months rehabbing their broken wings and other injuries. In these cases, REGI must not only mend the birds’ wounds but also teach these patients to be wild again by helping them re-learn how to hunt, interact with other birds, and fly. It has one of the largest indoor flight training facilities in the world.
REGI not only mends the wounds caused by men or young birds’ poor flight skills. It also serves as a field hospital that takes in victims of the onslaught of the West Nile virus. The West Nile virus is a neurological pathogen that attacks the part of the brain that controls a victim’s motor skills. For humans it is usually not fatal unless the victim already has a compromised immune system. That is not the case with most birds. The virus slowly debilitates a bird’s motor skills until it cannot fly, stand, or feed itself.
Cases of the West Nile virus have now been found in all 50 states. Last summer the majority of the cases were found in the Great Lakes region. The disease was first found in crows and pigeons but then it spread quickly to raptors and other bird species. It is carried by the mosquito and is passed on by its bite.
Some also suspect that the disease is being passed on to raptors by their ingestion of infected carrion. If this is true it would mean that the disease could be passed on to humans if they eat infected birds, and this could be catastrophic for poultry farmers and fowl hunters nationwide. Just last winter, record numbers of hunters stayed home in Wisconsin when it was rumored that humans could get chronic wasting disease from eating infected venison. Hunting is a large part of many states’ tourism industries and Wisconsin’s was hit hard. Everyone of course remembers how catastrophic mad cow disease was to the British beef industry. Mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease, and the West Nile virus are somewhat similar neurological diseases.
All of REGI’s funding comes from private donations. The staff, including Marge, is made up entirely of volunteers. I urge you learn more about this great organization and make a small donation. You can do both at www.raptoreducationgroup.org. You can be guaranteed that the money you give is going directly... well... to the birds.
© 2003, Geary Yonker
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