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Thomas Young together with Snow, his gyrfalcon/peregrine hybrid bird. Both were 37 years old in 2006 when I took this photo.

 “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi

One Man’s Love of Animals

Togetherness: Sheena may be a cougar but she acts as if she's right where she belongs. -- Photo by Pat Bean

During my 2006 wanderings, I came across Queen Wilhelmina State Park near Mena. Arkansas. One of its attractions at that time was a small zoo and wildlife sanctuary operated by Thomas Young, a wildlife rehabilitator.

The zoo animals included a bear, a timber wolf cub, orphaned fawns, bobcats, wild turkeys, hawks, owls, raccoons – and a cougar named Sheena. Almost all of them had been injured at some point in time.

The side of a small unpainted wooden building on the property told the real story of this place. Large white lettering boldly announced that 12 bears, 5,000 hawks, 2,000 owls, 22 bald eagles, 18 golden eagles and thousands of small mammals had been released back into the wild by Young. The $4 entry fee to the zoo helped cover his expenses.

It was while I was questioning Paul, a volunteer and apprentice falconer working with Young, that I saw Tom for the first time.

Paul pointed him out to me as the long-haired man who had just appeared with a turkey neck in his hand to feed a wild turkey vulture that had just landed in the park.

As I watched the scene from about 30 feet away, the volunteer told me the vulture was a bird Tom had rehabilitated. Later Tom told me it was actually the parent of the rescued bird. He said it was the first time this particularly vulture had fed from his hand.

I was more amazed that he could tell the difference between two vultures than that a large, society-designated-ugly, wild bird had fed from his hand. .

“For some reason it’s come to trust me,” Tom said of his vulture friend. “A while back it brought its young here for me to babysit while it flew off on some business for about three hours.”

The volunteer had already told me this story in more detail but I was still fascinated with Tom’s less wordy rerun along with a sparse sketch of his life.

This man was a doer not a talker.

Tom said the park’s lofty location in the Ouachita Mountains made it ideal for releasing rehabilitated birds back to the wild. I was privileged to see one such release the next day, an awesome red-shouldered hawk that Tom released from the overlook just beyond the park’s lodge.

The bird simply fall off the edge of the mountain and glided away, one of the most beautiful sights any birder could ever hope to see.

Bean’s Pat: A Traveler’s Tale http://tinyurl.com/brbfpsh Take an armchair tour of a Papua, New Guinea, village.

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