27.11.2003 Feature Article

Did I Hear Someone Say, "Save The Big Birds?"

Did I Hear Someone Say,
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The hawks, the vultures, the eagles, and the falcons have been an inspiration to people of all races and creeds since the dawn of civilization. We as a people cannot afford to lose any species of these birds without an effort commensurate with the inspiration of courage, integrity, nobility, and neatness that they have given humanity. Eagles and their relatives, the hawks, falcons, and distantly the vultures, have long been a source of wonder. The eagle’s mastery of the wind and the piercing eyes of the hawk on its kill have intrigued many since the study of birds became a significant aspect of life. The significance of the feeding habits of the vulture has remained a mystery many are trying to unfold. Some think their eating habits keep the environment clean, others think it is sheer filth. Their regal appearance and haughty manner have made these birds the emblems of kings and empires. Now, as their numbers decline and as some species seem destined for extinction, man will fail in the basic philosophy of existence if he does not gear his attention towards the survival of these birds.

Birds have for a long time in history played vital roles in sustaining both plant and human lives. Man through his actions has for several years underestimated the role of birds and consequently neglected their existence. Not only have these birds been icons of beauty in the environment, they have been helpful too. The colorful feathers, the early morning chirps, the amazing flight maneuvers and the sight of birds feeding can be soothing to men of all ages. The dexterity with which the hawk catches its prey has been a thing of interest to many. Haliaeetus leucocephalus which is the scientific name for the bald eagle derives its meaning from natural and colorful sources. The name indicates a sea (halos), eagle (aetos) with the color white (leucos) (Writing in A Changing World 773.)

These birds in spite of, or as a result of their beauty have become the target of many. They have been hunted with such alacrity that the actual number and distribution prior to the arrival of white men will never be known. The reasons for the near demise of these birds are both circumstantial and implicative. There has been gradual but steady reduction in the breeding range, nesting success, and conducive ecological habitat of most of these big birds. Reductions in prey populations and disturbances by humans have indirect links with the demise of the birds. Many activities of man have however played unequivocal roles in keeping the destruction of the birds on the high. Human related killing is the most common source of mortality for bald eagles today.

Four causes of death – shooting, electrocution, trapping, and collisions – account for two – thirds of all deaths reported (Writing in A Changing World pp. 751.) In his article, “Interactions with Humans,” Mark Stalmaster asserted that the first massive eagle shootings occurred in Alaska. Over 128,000 birds were turned in to officials for bounty payments he reiterated. This, compared to the current eagle population of 80,000 in America, seems ridiculous. The hawk, the falcon and all other birds suffered the same fate. Not only was the hunt for these birds solely an American problem, all over the world, the birds suffered the same fate. Africa was not left out in these absurd activities. Shooting from airplanes, with all forms of sophisticated weapons, made the hunt very devastating in America. Africans also hunted in their own small but surely destructive way. Many children followed their parents to farms with catapults and traps just to destroy these birds. Ironically, most of these children prided themselves over the number of birds they killed each day on the farm.

Now a new affliction has brought trying times to the eagle and its “cousins.” Today, people kill these birds for only fun. Killing eagles and other birds have also become a commercial activity. Eagles are now more than ever being shot for parts and feathers, which are sold or traded on the black market. Indians, blacks and whites are all now reaping benefits from the sale of eagle feathers at the cost of the birds’ lives. Most birds are also killed for various mysterious reasons. In Ghana for example, vultures are never allowed their rights to life. Ghanaian myth has it that witches and wizards change into vultures at night thus vultures are mostly killed and burnt in order to eliminate witches. Owls, bats and other birds suffer the same destiny.

Electrocution whilst perching on high voltage power poles, inadvertent capturing of eagles in animal traps and poisoning are also some of the ill fate that birds suffer from. Humans’ in their quest for so called industrialization and technological advancement have seen these high voltage poles as a major mode of transmitting power. These poles however are not bird friendly and some times not human friendly as well. Fun traps for other animals have been trapping these birds too. The use of chemicals such as DDT in fishing has been of great destruction to the fishes, birds and man. This is because man and birds mostly depend on these water bodies and the fishes for their existence.

The big question is “are these destructive ways the only ways to use birds?” The answer is obviously no. Birds have played major roles in our societies. Birds are agents of pollination, agents of seed dispersal, ecological indicators, totems and key players in our food chain. As agents of pollination, these birds help pollinate most flowers. Palpable is the fact that man depends on pollination to get access to food. Without pollination, many fruits would have remained dreams in people’s minds. There would have been less mango fruits, guava fruits, maize for our corn flakes and no vine for wine. As agents of seed dispersal, birds have contributed to the green vegetation we have. Most humans have never planted any seeds all their lives but have enjoyed the services of trees and plants. Most of these were dispersed by birds. The survival of birds in our environments is crucial in determining whether our environments are safe to live in. The massive death of birds in an environment calls for serious attention to determine whether there are poisonous gases in the air.

Totemism may not be a familiar word, though humans have practiced it over the years. It has been used to basically preserve humanity and other forms of life. Some of the common totems hardly visible in our forests are birds such as the eagle, vulture, falcon, hawk and the popular “kotoko” - crested porcupine. These birds and animals represent the spirits of Ghanaian tribes. The “kotoko” for instance, represents the fighting spirit of the Ashanti tribe of Ghana and the Kumasi based soccer team named after the totem.

Most teams around the world have found solace in using the names of certain birds to depict their teams. Notable among them are the “Super Eagles” of Nigeria. The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States. Ghana always prides itself in the intelligence of our ancestors in placing our coat of arms in the “hands” of eagles. Birds have done enough for our society and allowing them to suffer both directly and indirectly from our activities will amount to nothing but sheer malice and disrespect for life. After all, one good turn deserves another. Preserve the life of a bird today! Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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