Compassion vs. Instinct
As the miracle of life unfolded on the Black Eagle Cam, little did we know our viewing would be cut short due to a strange and confusing event. The Black Eagle Project at Roodekrans has a very devoted and knowledgeable team working diligently to gather information and data on the great black eagle and its life. They have watched for years as a pair of adult eagles return to lay and raise a chick. As part of the research, since 2006, the chicks have had identifcation tags and rings attached to their wings and legs in order to provide important information in their later lives. Unfortunately, during this season, the female adult eagle became very agitated that there was something foreign on the chick, the identification ring that was placed on the leg. In an effort to remove it from the chick, she accidentally broke its leg. As a result the chick has been removed and is recovering well, with hopes of a return to the wild in later months. So what was so important that the chick had to be tagged and ringed...why didn't we just let nature take its course? Unfortunately over the years, mankind has managed to invade and in some cases diminish the habitat of many animals. The black eagles are victims of the encroaching developments around them, and have had trouble providing for their chicks in the past due to lack of prey. Gathering information allows researchers to determine if and how much the species is being affected, and hopefully provide possible ways to help keep the birds from suffering any further at the hands of man. That being said...we now come to the emotions that humans assume are felt by all animals. As mammals, there is a very strong instinct to protect our young, to the death if necessary. We see it on all the animal documentary shows as a lone animal with a brand new calf or cub has to fight off the hungry leopard or lion. Our hearts are touched by the determination of the mother to keep her baby from being taken. Birds on the other hand, while they are protective of their young, they are not capable of the same bond that mammals have. When the black eagle chick was removed from the nest, the parents were confused, but accepted it and moved on. There was perhaps confusion as to where the chick had gone, but not panic or desperation that mammals feel. The operate strictly on instinct...not emotion. Was it sad to watch? For us yes. Was it distressing for the parent birds? Not in the same way it was for us. Were they coldhearted and uncaring? Not in the world of birds...they did exactly what they should have done, they laid two eggs...one survived, the other did not develop and the remains were most likely eaten by one of the adults. How horrible you say? No...they were acting on instinct, insuring that the strongest chick would survive..not something a mammal would do. We see it often in the bird world..if a chick hatches and is weaker than the rest or something is wrong, the parents kick it out of the nest, or it is eaten, by either the siblings or an adult. Is it still hard to watch even knowing they act instinctively? Of course it is...simply because we think in terms of love and emotion, something birds cannot do. While our viewing time has come to an end for this season, it was not a failure in the bird world. The chick was healthy before his leg was broken, and the surgery to repair it was too. He will be watched and cared for, eventually being released to continue his life as a great Black Eagle, and someday will be raising his own chicks from year to year. If something happens to one along the way, he will accept it and move on with no feelings of remorse or distress, returning the next year to raise another. So while we say goodbye to our viewing for the year, it was not a failure, or an emotional let down, it was nature...pure and simply...it was nature.