Sarah and Jo were thrilled to be invited, along with Miranda Krestovnikoff from BBC’s Coast and The One Show, to the launch of Wings of Africa at the Hawk Conservancy just outside Andover, Hampshire.
Taking 12 months to form and develop, it surprised staff that training the birds was the least of their worries – sourcing a mock buffalo carcass and a pretend termite mound were the biggest obstacles! The African atmosphere had to be replicated and given the exceptionally high winds that Hampshire was subjected to the day of the launch, we’d say it was done well. Complete with sound effects straight from the plains and as much authenticity Weyhill could muster, the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire and Madame Mayor declared the display open. It was the first time the demonstration had been showcased all the way through and it will be on now every day until September.
With the addition of Tasha and Meera, two rescued Meerkats, and stunning African birds, this display will no doubt be a hit with all the family this summer. The amazingly knowledgeable staff explained how during the 50 year history of the trust, formally Weyhill zoo, conservation has been paramount in their minds. Indeed, it was this that Miranda Krestovnikoff commented on. The BBC TV presenter was impressed with the local school involvement to educate and inform to preserve the species going forward. The fact that 50% of the birds of prey that get rescued go back into the wild was also something to be proud of, which the Lord Lieutenant mentioned.
The display falls naturally into two parts, showing off the hunters first. Enter Othello, the beautiful African Fish Eagle with his stunning call, known as the ‘Voice of Africa’. A truly magnificent creature with quite an air of showmanship, his colourful profile broken up by white is apparently so his shape isn’t recognized by fish – certainly battled with the winds well under the command of Gary, one of the handlers.
The next hunter to appear was a Milky Eagle Owl, called so because of their pale eye lids, this bird is one of the oldest there at around 40 years old! This seasoned pro made his presence known, swooping dramatically over many spectators!
Our personal favourite, the long legged and elegant Secretary Bird, who always looked as though she was teetering on stilettos appeared next. An absolute expert on catching snakes, this was very entertaining. Never one to shy away from attention, this bird has previously escaped to the A303 in the past causing chaos.
The mock Buffalo carcass had its time to shine next when the Scavengers entered. The rare Ambassador Vultures, with their big beaks, are first on the scene removing the larger chunks of flesh if in the wild. Cassius, the African White Backed vulture and Clay would definitely make light work of anything lying about on the plains I’m sure. Fagan, the Hooded Vulture who was rescued from Italy has a smaller beak and would wait until the other birds had left the scene, picking the smaller bits of meat off the bones.
The stunning Yellow Billed Kites flew in next, struggling in the ridiculous winds at this stage but soldiering on. These birds are used to adverse conditions and actually benefit from lightening (although the weather wasn’t quite that bad!) The hand reared Sacred Ibis, known as ‘nature’s hoovers’ arrived next, playful and cheeky, these birds eat insects and with their pointy beaks are experts at picking all the remaining pieces from the bone. Then it’s cue the Meerkats!
Never a dull moment, these cheeky girls have settled in well considering they have never met any other Meerkats as they were rescued from ex pet service. It only took them two days to bond to each other and the handler and they have taken to their training well. Paul the trainer has enjoyed the challenge of working with Tasha and Meera but commented that a bite from them is the worst he’s encountered!
The trust are excited about what’s to come in the next 50 years too, more conservation is their primary aim, more raptors and to keep moving is what Ashley, the manager, said and with displays like this to draw people in, we’re sure they’ll be a must see attraction for many years to come!
The Hawk Conservancy has meeting and conference facilities, a gift shop, excellent café and baby change area and ample parking. Find out more at : www.hawk-conservancy.org