KOKOMO, Ind. — Momentarily oblivious to the room full of people admiring him, a peregrine falcon — a living environmental success story - snacks on chicken during a presentation at Indiana University Kokomo.
Mark Booth, executive director of Take Flight! Wildlife Education, said after nearly being wiped out by pesticide use, environmental regulations helped the species recover, enough to be removed from the endangered list.
This is good news for everybody.
“The peregrine falcon is at the top of the food chain. It indicates environmental health, and that’s very important,” Booth said. “Every time a species becomes extinct, and is gone forever, that means our overall planetary biodiversity is a little bit less healthy than before. That’s a problem, because we live here. We rely on a healthy ecosystem for our existence.”
His presentation, hosted by the Office of Sustainability, also included a red-tailed hawk, an American kestrel, and a barred owl. Booth noted that all the animals had been injured at some point, and wildlife rehabilitators determined they could not be re-released. It is illegal to own these animals or any parts of them, like feathers, without a permit, which he has. Instead, they serve as ambassadors for their species, demonstrating why sustainable living is important.
The falcons became endangered due to use of DDT, which would accumulate in the bird’s system after consuming other birds that fed on insects, seeds, and fish contaminated by the pesticide. The Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972, and environmental groups began work to breed them in captivity and release them back into the wild. In 1999, they were removed from the endangered species list, though they are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
“In nature, everything is connected to everything. That’s not philosophy, that’s science,” Booth said. “Everything is connected, and that includes you.”
As he talked about the red-tailed hawk, he fed it a dead mouse, noting that birds of prey often get an undeserved bad reputation because they eat other animals.
“It doesn’t make them a bad guy, it just makes them a predator,” he said. “The more you learn about nature, the better off you are. We are all a part of nature.”
Senior Mary Hogsett said seeing the birds in person reminded her why teaching people about taking care of the environment is important.
“It’s easy to talk about environmentalism and sustainability, but we live in such an urbanized world, it can be hard to see the physical manifestation,” she said. “It’s different when you see this bird up close. You realize your actions have an impact on if that bird and his species lives or if it dies. It forces you to face the reality of living in a sustainable world.”
Julian Wallace, also a senior, was surprised to learn that many species are adapting to living in urban areas. It’s good and bad, he added, because people have driven them out of their natural habitat, but they’ve learned to survive.
“Without people like Mark, we don’t have this knowledge,” he said. “It’s important to have this kind of program on our campus, so we can learn and share what we learn with other people.”