It all began in 2003 with two Barn Owls, Fulstop and Bernie. Both were rescued with injuries and delivered to Sarah Higgins, a kind woman with a passion for wildlife, especially Owls. The newly formed couple bred repeatedly at her farm on the shores of Lake Naivasha, and all the young were ringed and released into the wild. And so the sanctuary was started. It grew further with the addition of several injured birds from Simon Thomsett, Kenya’s foremost expert on raptors, and an experienced raptor rehabilitator, in 2007, including a pair of highly threatened Crowned Eagles. These eagles are both in their 40s and still breeding; 10 of their offspring have been released back into Tsavo National Park over the past three decades.
The sanctuary has now burgeoned into a large collection of non-releasable breeding birds and birds in different stages of recovery, awaiting release. Sarah and Simon have tended to over 170 birds representing some 35 species over the past decade (including rarities such as Mackinder’s Eagle Owls), most of which have been returned to the wild. There are now 40 or so in residence; the sizeable task of merely maintaining these birds has led us to form a Trust, set in Naivasha, and dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, release and further research of African birds of prey: the Naivasha Owl Centre.
Here at the Centre, we use modern scientific and medical procedures to ensure birds are given the care and attention they desperately need, whilst also using ancient falconry methods to teach them to fly, hunt and get fit when healed. A chick rescued from a felled nest and in the first stages of development will need to be taught everything from scratch, especially how to behave with its own species! This is where falconry is most useful; birds that have taken months to heal cannot hunt efficiently upon release unless they’re fully fit. Training birds to hunt again and fly at full capacity is an important part of rehabilitation, and anyone who omits this stage is consigning a bird to a slow death from starvation.
The Centre is already the largest of its kind in the region, and still, we dream of getting bigger. In the immediate future, our aim is to have a fully equipped clinic to treat injured and sick birds, expand and improve accommodation for the inevitable increase in incoming ‘patients’ and have a functioning education centre. Our long term objectives include the captive breeding of endangered species to restock wild populations (a good candidate would be the Lammergeyer, or Bearded Vulture, of which there are less than five individuals left in Kenya), a museum dedicated to raptors and their conservation, educational flight shows and the like. If you’re ever around, visit us and take a tour.