Above Photo Credit: CapeFearRaptorCenter.org
Written and Photographed By: Mike Raab
It all began in 2011 with a red-shouldered hawk that had a fractured wing due to being shot. It was brought to Doctor Joni Seymour at Rocky Point Animal Hospital to see what could be done for the wounded bird. At that time, the Carolina Raptor Center, located in Huntersville just North of Charlotte, was the closest facility to intervene surgically. That’s when Dr. Seymour began her plans for the Cape Fear Raptor Center (CFRC).
Dr. Seymour is originally from around the Twin Cities in Minnesota, but attended veterinary school at NC State University. “Eleven years or so ago,” said Dr. Seymour, “Pender County was in need of a veterinary facility on the western side of this county. In 2006 I opened Rocky Point Animal Hospital because of my love for animals, medicine, and working with people.” She added the CFRC also because of her love for animals. “I decided this area needed a place for the local community…to stop and assist these birds when injured that was closer than a 4 or more hour drive.” She later added, “I take a lot of pride and joy in making both my patients healthy and their owners happy.”
So what exactly are raptors? “Raptors are considered ‘biological indicators,’” Dr. Seymour explained, “which means they indicate whether the ecosystem is thriving or in trouble by the prey they eat and the habitat they need to survive. If there is an overpopulation of snowy owls, it means that the lemming population in the Arctic that year was strong or overpopulated. Therefore, the snowy owls were successful at reproducing, feeding their young, and fledgling offspring from the nest.”
Individual species have individual jobs that are important. I learned from Dr. Seymour turkey buzzards are the “garbage men” of the raptors. “They clean up dangerous bacteria and viruses by eating dead and decaying carcasses. Barn owls [on the other hand] eat 3,000 to 5,000 mice a year, and are helpful in preventing and limiting crop destruction [from] rodent populations and disease spread.”
The Cape Fear Raptor Center’s mission is “to rehabilitate and release injured or sick birds of prey,” said Dr. Seymour. “Sometimes we are successful; sometimes the most humane thing is to euthanize the bird. The birds that we are able to save, but are not releasable, we utilize in education programs to teach the community to appreciate, respect, and value these birds as important parts of our ecosystem.” The Center also participates in “conservation efforts, such as promoting the use of non-lead based ammunitions, tracking bald eagles, and teaching bald eagles to hunt with the use of falconry techniques.”
Dr. Seymour is a licensed falconer—someone who has a permit to hunt with a bird of prey. Falconry is the most regulated hunting sport in America, even though it has been practiced around the world for centuries. Getting a permit is not easy. “The process is long to become licensed and entails finding a sponsor for 2 years, passing a difficult test, inspection of your bird enclosure by local wildlife officers or biologists, and strict federal guidelines on hunting with different species. We abide by hunting laws just like any other hunter, including seasons and take limits.”
CFRC operates within the walls of Rocky Point Animal Hospital. “The staff and doctors are busy seeing patients, [performing] surgery, and operating a 7 day a week veterinary hospital during normal business hours,” said Dr. Seymour. “Because of this, the facility itself is not open for visitors to wander through like you would at a zoo.” However, CFRC is open daily for private tours. For a private tour, you can sign up on their website at www.capefearraptorcenter.org/educate.html.
In the future, Dr. Seymour envisions CFRC “receiving a donation of land and the building of a freestanding education center.” This center would be “a facility that the public can visit and experience the amazing birds we work to protect on a daily basis up close and personal. It’s one thing to talk about lead poisoning and lead ammunition, but it’s another thing to stand next to a bald eagle, the symbol of our great nation, and have someone ask, ‘Why is this bird with you?’ Telling them the story of how he was unable to stand or lift his head because he had eaten a deer carcass that had lead ammunition remnants in it, makes people stop and think, not just gloss over the subject.”