The essential discipline when hand-rearing baby mammals and birds is to robustly avoid imprinting.
Imprinting is nature’s way of ensuring that a new born mammal or newly hatched bird bonds with its parent.
This, probably, irreversible condition can even occur during the first days of life.
If imprinted on humans a wild animal would never interact with its own species and could never be released, contrary to everything we stand for.
However, there has been an exception who has become an integral part of the Tiggy’s family.
Phoebe, a red kite, was deliberately imprinted on my instruction as I knew that she would never survive in the wild.
Phoebe came to us as a baby as long ago as 2001. She was in a terrible, life-threatening state with her face, mouth and beak ravaged by a horrible disease called trichomoniasis.
I could see that although she would be able to fly she would be hopelessly compromised, not being able to properly feed herself.
Her eyes were caked with the disease, her face was a mess and her top beak so fragile it was about to fall off.
For week after week we treated and mollycoddled her until eventually her eyes cleared so that she could imprint on us as her family.
Sadly as expected, she did lose part of her beak but she thrived and soon settled in a giant aviary I had built her.
In it she could fly to her heart’s content and did ‘her bit’ by settling any red kites in for recuperation.
Still she seemed to prefer our company. Birds do not have emotions as we understand them.
They do not know ‘happy’ or ‘sad’. Although Phoebe did seem happy in her environment. In fact everyday her red kite call “weoo-weoo-weoo” would greet Emma coming to feed her.
Phoebe has been with us, comfortable for 12 years. She has had the one possession that all wildlife fights for: life itself.