Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rescuing Birds is Useful

Author: International Bird Rescue and Research Center

Birds is Useful

In the Gainesville Sun on June 11,  this headline read:  Scientists:  Rescuing Birds is Useless. As a scientist,
bird veterinarian, minister, and a consultant in the human dimensions of
conservation and wildlife, I found myself grateful that the ethical issues of
bird rescue made the front page. I myself wonder how I might spend my days as I
ask every morning, "Is what I do useless?"  or framed another way, "How can we as
individuals and as a society put our resources to the most use?" This
question is often framed as "charity versus justice" or "helping
the individual versus changing the system that got the individual into the mess
in the first place."  In respect to
the Deepwater Horizon Disaster and birds, we wonder whether to save the one
oiled pelican, or to save our energy, talent, and resources to provide habitat
for pelican rookeries or to lobby for stricter protection of the environment. At
one level, this is an individual’s choice.  What do you feel compelled to do - care for
suffering individuals or for a suffering society and environment?  After 24 years working in avian conservation
and medicine, as well as many years counseling humans in vocational
discernment, I suggest that we each give of ourselves to causes where our deep
joy and gifts intersect with the world’s great needs. If you receive joy and
satisfaction in washing oiled birds, do so. 
Mother Teresa often received criticism from her efforts to care for the
homeless and poor instead of using her power and charisma to change the
economic or political system in India.  Yet she did much to raise awareness and
compassion through her efforts.

Our human response to the suffering of others is an
interrelated whole.  It doesn’t matter so
much the particular of what we do, just as long as we do something, and keep in
mind to do no harm.  For the individual
pelican or tern mired in the oil, it surely matters to them that someone is
willing to ease their suffering, either through treatment or compassionate
euthanasia.  No one trained in avian
rescue wants to cause unnecessary suffering, so we have to be ready to make the
hard decision whether to put a bird through the stress of medical intervention
given the likelihood of recovery and release. 
For me this means we need to study the issues as completely as possible
so that we do the least harm. In the case of oiled birds, there are
indicating that a high percentage of birds do survive and can return to
breeding.   The article in the Sun on
6/11 (online version has different title - Is Rescuing Birds Futile?) only referred to one study, which was 15 years old.  Since then our techniques for rehabilitation
have improved, as has our ability to understand the situation from the bird’s
point of view.  We ask, "If I were
this bird, would it be worth it to go through the stress of capture, captivity,
and treatment given the percent chance I will lead a satisfactory life in the
future?" Although no one can answer this question for another or with any
reliability, it doesn't diminish the importance of this question for every bird
under our care.  I know that I find the
pressure of “doing the right thing” nearly overwhelming when it comes to making
decisions with wild birds, but I do not want my uncertainty to stop me from
doing all I can. 

So what is stopping us as group of people from doing
all we can?  Perhaps we suspect that if
we spend time helping birds and not say some other group of suffering beings,
such as orphans in Central America of out-of-work fisherpeople in the Gulf, we
are somehow fundamentally flawed.  We
don’t want to be people who say that birds matter more than humans, or that one
kind of human or bird matters more than others. 
We need not judge ourselves or others based on how we care for
others.  When we help one being, we are
helping others.   If we are called to help humans, we are also helping
birds for they need us as individuals and as a species to be as healthy as we
can. In turn, we need birds and their environments to be as healthy as they can
for our own sake.  The fate of one is the
fate of all. The important question isn’t whether we spend BP’s resources on which
humans or which bird or animals, but how do we care for the interrelated
whole.  By asking that question, I
believe we move towards a future where we as a society can find a way to use
our resources wisely and compassionately. 
When we seek to help others and keep our hearts open to all beings, we
nurture and heal our own lives as we nurture and heal the world. Saving that
one oiled bird this week may not mean you can be sure she will pass on her
genes or live a long life, but maybe, just maybe, it will help heal the human
heart and condition, so that the days of all beings may be long on this earth.  And that's a useful thing.

(this article appeared in the Gainesville Sun June 12, 2010)

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