by Richard Carroll, Rhoko Manager
It seemed like an ordinary day, at least in as much as those exist in CERCOPAN, either way there was little to hint that another bundle of joy was about to drop into my lap. I’d dropped the week’s supply of monkey food down with keepers and had taken the opportunity to call Calabar HQ from the 2 metre radius mobile phone network hotspot. I don’t know how these things work; generally I just accept the magic that allows me to talk to the outside world from the forest… even if I need to walk 15 minutes to a fallen tree which randomly has access to two networks. Anyway, following all that I arrived back to the education centre to be greeted by Usor, one of our research assistants whom I had last seen half an hour earlier heading off into the forest to follow wild putty nosed guenons for the day.
“Usor, what are you doing here?” Usor didn’t immediately reply, but stood to one side to reveal a small bundle of fluff and feathers on the ground behind him.
“I found it on Camp Trail near Okibomi; it was just on the path it must have fallen from a tree” he explained as I stooped to investigate further. Two orange eyes peered back at me from the sprawled heap of downy plumage and a small hook-beaked mouth opened and closed threateningly..imagine an aggressive feather duster. An appraisal of this strange creature rendered the following conclusions: one, I was being confronted by a very young, rather put out owl; and two: it had a broken wing.
My first thought had been to find which tree it had fallen from and to return it to the nest as soon as possible. Seeing the one wing hanging at an awkward angle on the ground had put paid to this idea of a quick fix. A slight uneasiness was beginning to form in my mind, I can never turn down an animal in distress, but I have very little experience with caring for young birds and none regarding how to fix a broken wing. I knew that without that the right care this baby owl would never be able to fly and being without access to a vet currently; that responsibility had fallen on me. I went back to the fallen tree and once again called Calabar, informing them of our new arrival and begging them to unearth some advice on how to proceed for the best.
Back at main camp, a search amongst our Spartan food supplies revealed only a tin of corned beef as a potential food item; hardly ideal, but more palatable to an owl than potatoes or instant noodles. The anticipated lunchtime radio call furnished me with a better understanding of nutritional do’s and don’ts for owls and, between the bursts of static, a rundown on how to fix a broken wing; all teased out from the internet by Amy.
Over the next few days we gradually managed to adapt to a suitable menu for our newest addition, initially feeding time was a constant battle. Hours were spent attempting to convince this fussy little eater that, really, a mix of tinned meat, fish, raw egg and maggots was very tasty. Sylvain and I tried all manner of feeding strategies, once again convincing several staff members of our lack of mental stability as we experimented with a variety of potential ‘mother owl’ noises to encourage a feeding response.
Fresh lizard, rat and chicken- all go down very well, though the preparation of such items is rather grim. It helps that we both have a background in biological sciences so, in many ways, preparing these meals is very reminiscent of dissection classes.
As for the broken wing, well its early days and we won’t really know for a while. However, the bandaging seems to have held everything back in the right position and despite our as yet unnamed little friend being an awkward patient, removing his dressing during the night, everything looks to be healing okay.
How the owl came to fall from the nest I guess we’ll never know; being so young and carrying an injury means we now have an uphill battle on our hands, to fulfil our dream of seeing him or her fly again. There’s a fighting spirit inside this bundle of feathers though, shining out through those amber eyes and seeing that tenacious spark from within, makes me believe that this little one may just have a chance.