Science is an integral part of LCF's work. While it makes us all feel good to rescue animals and return them to the wild, an even more important question is how much good our work does for the species and our overall ecosystem.
For example, when the peregrine falcon was on the endangered species list, falconers put a great deal of effort into learning to captive-breed them for release and, it was hoped, regeneration of the population. It was important for biologists and falconers to understand the program's effectiveness. How many released birds were surviving? Were they mating successfully? How many offspring were born, and when? Were they healthy? Only by asking these and other questions were the many people who contributed to this effort able to know that they were on the right track to save the species.
Whether rehabilitators work with endangered or non-endangered species, it is critical to know how released birds are faring. That is the best judge of any organization's work. If survival rates after release are poor, something is wrong in the rehabilitation program. While most projects are not held accountable to any government agency or funders, ethics require self-examination and critique. Scientific study, including tracking of released birds within the population, is vital to a successful rehabilitation program. (To the left, the photo shows a pair of volunteers preparing to track released eagles with an ultralight plane. Who ever said that research can't be fun?)
Other scientific studies encompass many areas. Migratory tracking improves our knowledge of when and where it is best to release birds for the best chance of survival and mating. Behavioral investigation provides answers for better rehabilitation and understanding about the relationships between different plants, animals, and ourselves. After all, who might have guessed that an individual barn owl eats over 1000 rats and mice per year, making them more effective agricultural pest control than chemicals? Population and case statistics give insights as to the overall health of species and the environment, and gives us warning about disease, poisons, and other harmful phenomena - many of which can affect humans but will affect raptors and other predators at the top of the food chain first.
Recently, LCF began pursuing ground breaking investigative studies on released raptors that have never before been attempted in this state. We devised a non-invasive short-term tracking protocol for rehabilitated released raptors and applied it to released Bald Eagles on Lake Buchanan in Central Texas. Partnering with other organizations such as Vanishing Texas River Cruise and Canyon of the Eagles (LCRA), LCF was able to follow the movements of four released birds in a 150 square mile area to determine survivability following release and use the information gathered to improve currently practiced rehabilitation techniques.
Sadly, LCF in 2002 heralded the arrival of the West Nile Virus in Bexar County, Texas. Many birds were affected, and with the cooperation of LCF, the Texas Department of Health, and USGS, Bexar County was warned that this possibly deadly virus was indeed here. LCF is now a monitoring station for the West Nile Virus, partnering with government agencies (Texas Department of Health and USGS) and universities (University of California, Davis) to watch for its spread and reoccurrence. LCF was a living reminder that the birds of prey we are dedicated to are indicator species, sending us messages concerning the overall health of the environment and helping us keep watch for environmental and biological issues that may ultimately affect us as well. LCF shall continue collaborating with various parties in its new role as a monitoring station.
Last Chance Forever believes that scientific investigation is necessary to the work of conservation and rehabilitation.