Jeremy Hance has an article at the Guardian on the quest to save from human encroachment a huge — and largely unknown — raptor: Blakiston’s fish owl.
“It’s not easy studying an endangered species few people have ever heard of,” says Hance. “It’s difficult to raise money, build awareness, or quite simply get people to care. But still, Jonathan Slaght – one of the world’s only experts on the massive, salmon-eating, frog-devouring Blakiston’s fish owl – insisted there are upsides. …
“Blakiston’s fish owl is the world’s largest [owl], and in the Russian forests, where Slaght conducts his research, it cohabits with a lot of big names: the Ussuri brown bear, the Amur leopard, the Asiatic black bear and, of course, the grand-daddy of them all, the ever-popular Amur Tiger. …
“Slaght is a project manager with the Wildlife Conservation Society and a co-founder of the Blakiston’s Fish Owl Project along with Russian ornithologist, Sergei Surmach. But his first run-in with a Blakiston’s came in 2001 when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Russia. At the time, all he knew about the species was from a tattered bird book more than 40 years old, including an ‘inaccurate, terrible illustration of Blakiston’s fish owl. …
“Although an avid birder, Slaght never expected to actually see one of these things. He was told the owl was so rare that even seasoned ornithologists rarely saw it. Yet one day, hiking in the forest with a friend, he had an encounter that changed the course of his life.
“ ‘Something enormous flies away from us and lands close by and it’s just this big owl.’
“He assumed it was a Eurasian eagle owl – which can be found across the entirety of Eurasia, from the coast of Spain to that of Primorye – but took a few photos just in case.
“ ‘My brain wouldn’t believe it was this mythical thing.’ …
“A few weeks later, though, Slaght gets his pictures developed and takes them to a local ornithologist.
“ ‘He says: “don’t show anyone this picture; this is a Blakiston’s fish owl.” ‘
“Slaght … has become one of the foremost experts on the great owls and continues to find them where people thought them vanished.”
Read about other places this rare bird is found (including Hokkaido, where it was once considered a god), here.
Photo: Jonathan C. Slaght/WCS Russia
Jonathan Slaght holds a Blakiston’s fish owl in his arms. He is one of a handful of researchers studying this massive raptor, which is threatened by human activity.