So I returned to my local Bird of Prey centre yesterday, hoping to find answers to some of the questions that had been bothering me since my last visit.
I found out, for instance, that the reason some of the birds are tethered as well as being confined to an aviary, is so that they don't fight amongst themselves. I understand the logic, but that doesn't negate the inherent wrongness I again felt at keeping any of these birds captive.
Such as this amazing African Fish Eagle, captured here in awe-inspiring flight:
All the birds are well looked after here, and are regularly flown so that they remain active and are able to exercise at least some of their natural instincts.
As one of the keepers told me, they see the captive birds here as "ambassadors for their species" - a case of sacrificing the freedom of a few for the greater good of the species as a whole. Whether the birds are there for breeding or educational purposes, the rationale is that it is, ultimately, for the greater good.
However, I've since been reading the Captive Animals' Protection Society (CAPS) website. They argue that captive breeding doesn't work (http://www.captiveanimals.org/zoos/zcon.htm for more info), as the majority of captive animals re-introduced into the wild do not survive.
For years they have been campaigning for the money invested in zoos, sanctuaries and other captive breeding establishments to be channelled instead into the conservation of natural habitats. They make the interesting point that protecting a few individuals from a small number of species is pretty futile, as eco-systems operate on a much larger scale, and that all aspects of them need to be protected - not just the most 'attractive' species.
This makes a lot of sense to me. With respect to my local bird of prey centre, I don't for one moment doubt that the owners and staff there are 100% committed to the conservation of these birds. I would be interested to discuss with them some of the points made by CAPS.
For me, no matter how good the intentions behind it, it feels very wrong for these birds to be behind bars, and/or chained to a post.
We need to continue working to undo some of the damage we've done, out there in the wild, where these animals belong - before species such as the hooded vulture take their final bow...