Tales of Tao 1 - The One Eyed Eagle
Long before we created The Gallery, we lived way up on the mountain. This was long before the mountain temple, long before there were any concrete buildings up there at all. Only a handful of Thai and Farang folks lived in basic, Thai style wooden houses. Back then everyone on Koh Tao knew each other, could reach out for help, and many of the busy-bodies, that every community seems to suffer, were often found meddling in everyone else's affairs. That was the nature of island life, a thriving little community, managed by descendants of coconut farmers and fishermen, nice and simple.
On one particularly hot, yet typically uneventful day much like any other, Chris and Bpu were swinging in a hammock in the shade of the balcony when a couple of young Burmese lads trundled up the hill with what appeared to be a rather large bird. As they approached it became clear that they had a distressed eagle that seemed all but given to despair.
"Can you fix it?" one of them uttered.
Several odd queries came to mind at this point, "why us" being the most prevalent? But the only decent answer to this question was the one we immediately gave, "Yes".
To this day I'm not sure what possessed us to take on this new role as wildlife rehabilitation experts, but it has somewhat laid out a role we often fill in this tiny community.
Now, this gigantic bird with razor sharp talons and a terrifying beak, had a very clearly damaged left eye. We immediately set about building a perch that offered him freedom, yet was convenient for us to approach. Note that I refer to him as him, not because of my expert knowledge of ornithology, although I did study a little, but simply because calling him "it" seemed too distant and demeaning. The only reason I do not refer to him as her, is that I am simply terrified of making some terrible politically incorrect faux pas that lands me in hot water, when all I am trying to do is recount a tale of Tao; such is the tragic nature of this day and age we have created. Naming him was also out of the question as freedom was the goal, not prolonged captivity which, in a world of those blessed with flight, seems awfully unkind, I think, don't you? So he, he became!
Once located aboard his new perch, between our balcony and an adjacent tree, we set about trying to win his trust, with excellent cuts of chicken and fish. It is probably worth mentioning that our simple island style existence, came with simply very little money. But for this regal bird we pulled out all the stops. Suffice to say that this quality cuisine did the intended trick with aplomb. My wife, Bpu became very close with him very quickly, he knew we were going to help him. In no time we were removing the millions of dust mites that had taken over his feathers, washing him, helping him to preen and feeding him top quality produce at a rate like there was no tomorrow. He became part of our lives, our daily routines revolved around the eagle, making sure he had consumed enough water and meat to regain a little strength every day. Indeed he became stronger and more beautiful, and waited on Bpu to feed him, welcoming her approach with apparently no fear. Although he did improve to such obvious and excellent levels, I still had enormous doubts as to whether or not he would be able to become independent in the wild; he did only have one good eye after all.
Several weeks later, I went out to work at sea for most of the day as was usual. When I returned I found Bpu tearful, but jubilant. She struggled to recount the story to me, but it went something like this...
"I fed him, he ate sooo much, then he started to stretch his wings, then he just flew, he just flew, it was so beautiful. He flew all the way up there", Bpu indicated up towards the heavens as she recounted through tears, "then he flew in circles for a long time, just a small dot in the blue sky", her tears, and now mine became too much to continue, so we just hugged and cried some more.
"That is amazing, I wish I had been here, I never thought it was possible".
"That's not all", Bpu continued, now beaming and soaked by tears. "He came back, he flew back down so fast and landed in the big tree just there. He sat there looking at me and called out to me very loud. Then he lifted his wings again and flew away out over the hill".
Yes, it's true, he came back to say thanks, to say goodbye perhaps. As a biologist, we were taught continuously at university, the dangers of anthropomorphism. That is portraying human characteristics onto animals, as animal behaviours are unique to each species. But it is hard when I remember Bpu's emotions of that day and how we had bonded with that spectacular bird. We never saw him again, we only hoped and prayed, in our own special ways, that he could now live out the life he deserved. I did do a little research on birds of prey after that event; it turns out that they can cope without their left eye but not without their right one. Who knew? You learn something new every day.
Shortly after the eagle left us another group of young lads brought us an owl but that is another story, another Tale of Tao for another day.