The 38-year-old wildlife biologist Joey Burnett was a vulture fan when he was in college. For the past 13 years (except for a period of tenure at the Oregon Zoo), he has been serving the Ventana Wildlife Society. He has served as a vulture field supervisor. Responsible for the work of reinhabiting vultures in central California. Known as “Vulture Joey” by the local residents, he assisted the association to establish a vulture breeding base in the Big Sur mountain area, and fenced the young eagles for breeding and training. Putting signs and radio transmitters on vultures before they are released is part of Burnett’s work, and he also regularly follows them and conducts physical examinations. In order to ensure that his beloved protected person gets delicious food, he also climbs the mountain from time to time. Hanging venison or beef in the middle of the steep cliff slope.
Burnett’s home is located in Monterey, California. On a sunny day in June 2009, he was playing with his 13-month-old son Griffin in the yard, while his wife was tidying the garden. In the afternoon, dark clouds gradually formed in the southern sky, covering the sky. The family then evacuated to the house located on the hillside. Immediately after a few flashes of lightning, some place in the distance showed a little light.
Burnett felt very anxious when he witnessed this situation. Due to the long-term drought, large areas of forest are extremely dry, especially in the Big Sur area, 48 km away from the coast, where more than 500,000 trees have become combustibles. Wildfires have not happened for many seasons. “There may be a wildfire,” he said to his wife with a heavy heart.
Burnett knew that most of the 25 vultures inhabiting the Big Sur area were able to fly out of the burning forest by themselves, but 8 were kept in the breeding base. If the fire spreads there, they are likely to be burned to death.
This windy but not heavy rainstorm just blew, and Burnett’s colleague, biologist Mark Tanier, who was searching for signs of condor activity along Highway 1, called. He told Burnett that thick smoke was rising from a redwood grove on a hill. At this time, Duani Ditus, who is in charge of a wildlife rescue center, also called and said that he learned from the fire fighting communications he had monitored that firefighters were fighting forest fires in several places. Kelly Sorenson, the head of Burnett’s organization, is now on a ridge near the vulture breeding base. He informed Burnett that he also saw smoke, about 16km away from the breeding base.
The vulture breeding base is located in a forest 27km from Highway 1, and there is an unpaved road leading to Highway 1. Under normal conditions, it would take three off-road vehicles and five staff to transport these vultures—seven young eagles under two years old and one adult eagle named “Huy”. This eagle can help the young eagle learn various skills (the small vulture masters various survival skills through the adult vulture as the “instructor”). Burnett actually did not expect to move this base, because this location is very suitable for these young eagles to maintain a minimum contact with humans.
Burnett and Sorensson came to the field office in Big Sur. They were anxiously following the fire report throughout the afternoon. By the time of dinner, a fire spread to the ridge about 9km away from the vulture breeding base. The original access road is no longer suitable for traffic. Only helicopters can reach the breeding base. Burnett then called various agencies and organizations for help, but due to numerous fires in the entire area, almost all pilots with helicopter licenses participated in or were on standby for firefighting missions.
Helicopter participates in rescue
That night, Burnett was lying in bed but unable to sleep. How can these little lives be saved? He kept thinking.
The next morning, Burnett continued to search for a helicopter that could fly. Duani Ditus suggested that his wife, Rebecca, might be able to think of a way through the network of people previously established in the rescue of wild animals. A few hours later, Rebecca contacted the San Francisco Coast Guard base and found a helicopter and a flight team. So Burnett selected Tanier, a 32-year-old biologist, and Henry Boniface, a 23-year-old intern, to join him in the rescue operation. “This is the most important thing I ask for your assistance,” Burnett told them.
Three individuals and flight crew members, the captain-34-year-old Lieutenant Harry Greene, the first officer-28-year-old Lieutenant Brad Donaldson (person seconded from the Royal Australian Navy) and the mechanic- -27-year-old Cassell Michalson met. They discussed the flight plan at a small airport in Monterey. Greene and Donaldson planned to land at a turning point about 1.6 km away from the vulture breeding base because the forest near the base was too dense to approach. A group of Burnett then entered the breeding base on foot, put the vultures into a “transit box”-a custom-made doghouse, and then loaded them on a helicopter, airlifted the vultures to Monterey, and finally sent them to A wildlife refuge outside the fire zone.
After the helicopter took off, it flew south along the coast and then turned inland. When it reached the scheduled landing site, the pilots found that the site could not be landed. “The rotating blades of the helicopter hit the shoulder of the road,” Greene explained. So Burnett guided the helicopter to a fire emergency landing point on the top of the ridge.
Just after 4:30 in the afternoon, the helicopter landed, less than 4 hours before dark. The crew received an instruction that the aircraft must not fly at night. The landing point was 4.8km away from the condor base, and there was a fire point not far away.
When Burnett’s group hurried down the mountain along the sidewalk, the soot from the sky fell on them like snowflakes. All around is quiet, only the sound of their boots rubbing on the road. Just after 17 o’clock, three people arrived at the vulture breeding base and managed to launch an old all-terrain cross-country vehicle that remained at the base as a tool to transport these birds. Tanier took out the chain saw from the tool room and saw off a large tree lying in the middle of the road; while Burt and Boniface dragged the transfer box to the bird fence where the condor was stocked.
The bird pen is about the size of a school gym, and inside it is set up stumps, trunks and branches for vultures to move. The three people first walked to the 17-year-old bird “Huy” and easily caught it, but it took a lot of time to catch a few small vultures. Although they were only 18 months old, they The wings have grown very big, and the mouth and claws are also very sharp. It took 30 minutes for several people to catch the first young eagle. The two eagles were immediately put on the car, and Burnett drove to the helicopter landing site.
When the helicopter flew back to the landing site after refueling, Burnett was waiting there. Greene warned that there were only two voyages left to fly to Monterey. Burnett quickly returned to the base, and 45 minutes later, he returned to the landing site with two young eagles. By about 19:30, two more young eagles were brought. Due to the limited capacity of the cabin, Michalson tried every means to put five vultures into the helicopter.
Smoke is still falling from the sky. The forest fire has now spread to the hillside less than 3km from the base of the condor. “By 8:30 in the evening, the rest of the birds must be brought here,” Greene yelled to Burnett through the roar of the helicopter engine. “Get ready, if we can’t land, you must leave them, and we will take you up somewhere below the ridge.” The helicopter flew away, and Burnett put down the transfer box containing the sixth vulture. He leaned it in a recess near the landing point and returned to the base.
When Burnett entered the base, Tanier and Boniface just caught the seventh vulture. The eighth 0.9m high vulture number 438 jumped from one branch to another, evading their capture. “Hawk, don’t run away.” Two people shouted from behind, following the fleeing vulture. With 5 minutes left before the time to return, Burnett finally caught the feet of Condor No. 438 on a ladder and handed it to Tanier and Boniface. The vulture was covered by a net and stuffed into the transfer box. When several big birds were put on the car, Bernett jumped into the driver’s seat, ready to start the engine, but couldn’t catch fire.
Tanier is a veteran of off-road vehicles. He replaced Bernett in the driver’s seat. With the strong push of Burnett and Boniface, the car slid down the slope to the sidewalk. Tanier put the car in second gear and the engine started. “Don’t stop, keep driving,” Burnett yelled loudly while facing Tanier, and walked down the mountain with Boniface. Halfway from the landing site of the helicopter, a smell of smoke made them cough, and Tanier also drove back to pick them up and told them that the helicopter had not arrived. “We may have to transport the last 3 vultures ourselves,” Burnett said wearily. He and Boniface grabbed the frame of the off-road vehicle with their hands, and the vehicle drove to the helicopter landing site.
When the car drove the last turn, there was a roar in the distance, and a helicopter searchlight was seen shaking in the dim sky. The returning helicopter was hovering above the ridge, looking for a landing point. “Continue to fly forward”, Bolt used the radio that he carried with him to instruct the other party, “Fly over another hill and we will arrive.”
Fly out of danger
After about seven or eight minutes, the helicopter finally landed. Michalson quickly moved the last three transfer boxes containing condors into the cabin. “Hurry up, come up quickly! The fire is coming!” he said. At this time, a spot of fire, driven by the strong wind, the head of the fire was rushing towards this side. So the three people climbed into the cabin. After Michalson closed the door, the helicopter rose into the air, hovering in the air with smoke and poor visibility. After a few seconds, it made a strong roar and flew upwards. After a while, it burst into the clear sky with smoke. Bolt and his comrades looked back and saw that several wildfire belts had burned to the ridge, the entire vulture base was shrouded in smoke, and the vulture and rescuers were finally out of danger.
As soon as the helicopter landed at the Monterey Airport, happy people flocked to the tarmac. They helped several biologists move the vultures into a van and transport them to the Pinnacles National Site 11km away. The breeding base set up in the protected area.
The young eagles continued to be led by Huy there, learning survival skills to adapt to the wild environment. In the fall of 2009, three small vultures were released from the Bettle Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Southern California; the other four were released from Pinnacles in November and December 2008. In March 2009, Burnett witnessed one of the vultures, female vulture No. 431, spreading its black and white wings, soaring over the mountains, and then flying towards Big Sur. “Seeing that they finally grow into real giant eagles, I feel very happy. This moment is where my heart is longing,” Burnett said with a smile, “This thing made me understand that people work hard. Everything you do will make the world a better place.” The
fire in 2009 burned down a large area of forest and destroyed nearly 60 buildings, including the vulture breeding base in Big Sur. At the same time, two were released. The vulture in the wild is missing. Not long ago, Burnett climbed a burnt red cedar tree in the area to investigate why a pair of vultures always flew to this tree. At the top of the tree, he made a surprising discovery: in a tree hole at the top of the 60m high tree, a 6-month-old young eagle is perching. “It’s like a phoenix born after a raging fire,” Burnett said.