Last Chance Forever, a San Antonio based rescue program for raptors recently gave a presentation at SeaWorld about the importance of raptors and conservation in today’s society. Through up close interaction and education, Master falconer/vet technician John Karger urges the audience to care about birds of prey, and to respect the life that soars far above us.
The show started off with a bay-winged hawk soaring over the audience, demonstrating its power in flight as well as the trust it has in its handlers as it flies from one to another before flying back to the stage where we meet founder John Karger. Karger explains the purpose of Last Chance Forever, as its status as a rescue organization and that every animal featured is an animal that was rescued, and cannot be released. He discusses several birds of prey that come out onto the stage, including the iconic red-tailed hawk named for its rusty tail the color of the setting sun. He also touches on falconry, the art of hunting with birds of prey which has been practiced for centuries. In doing so, he presents the falcon as a true predator that hunts with all the skills of the sky. It is a bird capable of hunting other birds, with powerful wings that can fly over 200 mph.
Karger then introduces the audience to an animal traditionally labeled as ‘ugly.’ He describes the heartbreaking tale of 2 visitors seeing this animal, and mocking it, because they don’t understand the true importance of this animal. It might not look pretty, but what it does is beautiful. And so, a black vulture swoops from the audience into the show. He demonstrates the vulture’s incredible walking ability, as well as their ability to clean out marrow, plus the unique way in which they fly. He stresses their importance in cleaning up the environment, as maggots and bugs can only do much, giving the audience an increased respect for this incredible animal.
As the sun sets, the dance changes, and the circle of life continues to exist. Karger then brings out several animals that few have the chance to see: owls. He first introduces us to the great horned owl, the largest owl who plays an important role in controlling the rodent and skunk population. A barred owl and eastern screech owl also joins them, all birds native to Texas. In addition, a bird called the spectacled owl is discussed. The spectacled owl is an endangered bird native to South America, and its ever decreasing numbers emphasize the hardships placed upon them by society’s carelessness.
Hunting is an important role a raptor plays in its environment. And although a bird might look healthy, it cannot be released until it has truly demonstrated the ability to catch its own food. Karger discusses the ethics of hunting, and as a hunter, he claims the purpose of hunting is to provide for his family and crew. To demonstrate, he brings out the bay wing hawk once more and has him catch a lure, a piece of leather shaped like a small bird, baited with a small piece of food. He includes the small piece of food as he believes that the bird catching the prey, but not eating it, is no different than murder. Thus, he displays the great trust he has with the bird, that it will willingly release the catch when asked to.
However, the most important part of the show was the emphasis on affecting the future generation. Karger honors the men and women fighting for their country by presenting a bald eagle. He reveals that whenever they receive the call to treat a bald eagle, he immediately thinks of those called to the army, and their selfless acts of fighting for our freedom. A golden eagle is also brought out, and upon doing so, Karger asks for an audience member to help him with the last part of the show. The member, usually a young child, is asked what they would do if they found the eagle wounded, if they would help it, or let it die. It is incredible to see how many would choose to help it. The child could not pet the bird, but they could touch it. The entire audience already did, with their eyes. But it was more important to touch it with their heart. With the help of Karger, the child reaches out to the bird, calming it, telling it of their intention to help it, protect it, and care. To say it without their voice, but to instead say it from their head and heart.
In the tradition of many SeaWorld shows, the participant is given a necklace, an eagle holding the world in its talons. With it comes the message of the show. In Karger’s words “If you ever get confused about staying wild, grab onto this. It’ll remind you, and it’ll take you out of the forest of confusion… We are the place between the sun and the moon, with the lightening flash and the thunder bolt, where a creator put us. That’s an old Celtic saying, fifteenth century, but my good friend Doc Henley, he’s an eagle, you know. He gave this to me and he said ‘you can use it all you want,’ and he said ‘why can’t we learn to stand still for a just moment and realize, yes there are heavens for us to go to when we pass on. But while we are here, this is our heaven.’ This is our heaven. You, these birds, this moment, this park, this is our heaven. And will you not help SeaWorld and Last Chance Forever save a little bit of heaven on earth?”