Falconry: Conservation’s Dirty Word. An interview with Andrew Knowles-Brown.
A fleeting glimpse during Sunday Lunch of a falconer looking for his lost falcon, would shape the direction of Andrew’s life and career. Since this encounter at nine years of age, Andrew has developed the world’s largest eagle breeding centre, bred more species of eagle than anyone else and helped to pioneer breeding techniques, not just for falconry but for conservation benefit. I talked to Andrew Knowles-Brown about his passion for eagles and his latest venture- starting the raptor based conservation charity- The Talon Trust.
How Andrew started in falconry
“I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t get involved with falconry, breeding eagles only came about because I got an eagle that happened to be an imprint”. Twenty five years later, Andrew still has his first eagle, a captive bred golden eagle originally from Moscow Zoo. “I thought it would be nice to get a female to see if I could breed them, nobody was regularly breeding eagles at that time [around 20 years ago] and I started building it up from there.”
“I have bred 12 or 13 species of eagle. Nobody has specialised in just eagles, so I have probably bred more eagles than anybody because of this.” As well as devoting as much time as he can to this, Andrew also runs a sheep and llama farm.
Overlap between falconry and conservation
“There are mixed opinions of keeping birds of prey, particularly eagles in captivity, many protectionist bodies don’t agree with it”. “But, there are lots of strings to how conservation works” Andrew explains, “in-situ conservation and maintaining wild breeding populations is great but it is not the only way of doing it and it is not always the best way forward”. “Useful skills learnt in captive breeding can be transferred to conservation programmes. For example, I pioneered the technique for using frozen semen [for raptor breeding] because, I had a male eagle I wanted to breed from and no female, so I wondered if I could freeze the semen to use at a later date. I looked into this and found that actually this had never been done. This has been replicated elsewhere and it is an extra string to the bow of conservation practices.” It is easy to see the value that this novel technique could have in conservation practice, particularly as a last resort where many other options are not possible or have been ineffective.
Andrew’s New Charity: The Talon Trust
Andrew doesn’t think there is quite enough overlap between falconry and conservation, “but there are quite a lot of people that are falconry orientated and that are into conservation. We don’t tend to stand up and shout about it because we are frowned upon, around the world, the big money donators/charities that have a big business in charity work don’t want to be involved with anyone who says they are falconer, it is a dirty word to them.”
Andrew hopes his new charity can help to readdress the balance and support relevant projects around the world. One such grassroots initiative that the trust supports are two brothers in Brazil carrying out research and trying to protect crowned solitary eagles and orange breasted falcons in their local area. “These are just two brothers that are passionate about birds of prey, both falconers, these guys have hardly got anything coming in, using their own money and their own time, it is these sort of projects that we are interested in funding at the moment.”
What is the best way to get into raptor conservation?
“Grassroots experience particularly in raptors and falconry techniques is important if you want to be involved in raptor conservation around the world. You need to know integral techniques such as how to hold a raptor, how to handle it, how to keep it right. Organisations such as the Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust in New Zealand or the Peregrine Fund are good places to go to get this. The Peregrine Fund is probably the largest falconry based charity and funder around the world.”
Would you recommend setting up a charity to support something you believe in?
“You need to find out where your interest lies and what species your interest lies in. You need to start off with the big picture and get involved in a generic conversation programme, then specialise in what you want to do, whether it’s the breeding side, the habitat, in-situ, ex-situ and what is reasonable given your circumstances and what you can do. I would love to do it in Africa, but I have a family and a farm here, I can’t go over there more than a few weeks a year. So I have to do what I can here and it is either that or I don’t do it at all. My life has been bird of prey orientated and this is just my little bit of helping and that it is all it really can be, whether it makes a lifelong impact, only time will tell.”
In talking to Andrew it has made something quite clear to me, that to make a difference in conservation you don’t necessarily have to work in conservation. This is particularly poignant to early career conservationists looking for their first break, those trying to switch careers or those who would like to contribute to conservation outside of their normal jobs.
Conservation needs skills from all areas, in this day and age more so than ever. Andrew has shaped an inquisitive mind, determination, and life-long experience with birds of prey, to work and to make a difference in the conservation sector, adding invaluable skills and techniques that will benefit wildlife populations.
If you are not lucky enough to land a job working in the highly competitive conservation, wildlife or biology sectors then gaining skills in other areas may be just as, perhaps even more, useful. It may enable you to look at things from a different angle, to discover the area you are truly passionate about and in the end apply these skills to the beneficial effect of threatened populations.
For more information on Andrew or The Talon Trust please use the links below: