On a brilliant November day, IFAW president and CEO Azzedine Downes and I climbed the Great Wall. Autumn foliage dots the mountains with red and yellow. Not a wisp of cloud in the blue sky.
A perfect day for our mission: release six raptors—common kestrels to be exact—back to the sky.
All of the birds were patients of the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center. They came with a variety of injuries; broken wings, severe dehydration, and shock from fallen out of a nest. The BRRC rehabilitators mended their wings and healed their injuries. After careful evaluation, the birds are deemed fit for release. So today they will get their second chance in life.
As each of the birds spreads its powerful wings and takes flight again, my heart sings and my eyes well up.
As predators in the sky, raptors play an important ecological role in nature. Although they are protected under Chinese law, habitat loss and illegal wildlife trade threaten their survival as they migrate through Beijing every year. After witnessing a seizure of over 400 saker falcons and unsuccessful attempts to rehabilitate injured birds of prey for release, I was determined to set up a center to demonstrate the highest animal welfare standards in raptor rescue, rehabilitation, and release.
In 2001, IFAW partnered with Beijing Normal University and Beijing Forestry Bureau to establish BRRC. In the past 17 years, BRRC has rescued 5,011 birds of prey. Over half of them had returned to the sky. Research at BRRC has also helped the government develop stronger protective regulations.
BRRC’s success is a testament to the strength of our partnership with Beijing Normal University, the Beijing government, and our supporters. We are incredibly proud to have reached our 5000th rescue and look forward to many more achievements in the upcoming years.
As we started back, I looked up. One of the kestrels was still circling the sky above the Great Wall, as if saying “thank you” and “goodbye.”
"Best wishes!" I thought, as they flew off into the distance.