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Knox Martin - Raptor Rescuer

Article published in July 2013 issue of RSVP Magazine
Story by Leah Fitzpatrick. Photo by Steve Roberts.

When the Memphis Zoo eliminated its Raptor Rehabilitation Program in 2002, the program's coordinator, Knox Martin, knew he still wanted to help treat injured and orphaned birds of prey, or raptors, with the goal of safely returning them to the wild. So that same year he went out on a limb and founded the Mid-South Raptor Center on land donated by Agricenter International (with the help of John Charles Wilson) and now handles nearly 200 birds a year from the tri-state area.

He specifies, "We mainly see meat eaters, which entail hawks, owls, eagles, falcons, vultures, and kestrels."

The most common injuries incurred by raptors that come to the center are from collisions with cars, but Martin still sees a number of birds with gunshot injuries, of which he mentions that shooting a bird of prey is a federal and state offense. Other than those two, the center has taken in birds hit by trains and airplanes, ones that have gotten caught in kite string and fishing line and those shot with arrows. Smaller species like screech owls and American kestrels have even come in after getting caught in mouse glue traps and steel leg traps. Annually, the center's volunteers also treat between 30-40 abandoned baby birds, with most of these and injured birds able to be released back into their natural habitat.

"Our release rate is around 40-50 percent, which has a lot to do with the excellent treatment they get here," Martin says.

The most critical component of the non-profit, which receives no funding other than private donations, is having a good volunteer veterinarian staff. Luckily, Dr. David Hannon of Memphis Veterinary Specialists donates his time and medication to help the center. With a critically injured bird, time is of the essence for treatment, and this is where Dr. Hannon and his team have stepped in on numerous occasions, even performing a surgery on a bald eagle that would have cost $5,000 normally. Other volunteers assist in the birds' rehabilitation with Martin, who calls himself a full-time employee/director though he receives no salary.

He offers, "If people want to check for photos and updates on the birds, they can go to midsouthraptorcenter.com - we usually follow up on eagles, as people are very interested in them."

If a raptor isn't able to make a 100 percent recovery, the Mid-South Raptor Center won't release the bird into the wild, which happens to be the case for the barred owl pictured on Martin's glove. Hit by a car, this owl incurred a broken left wing; and due to the nature of the injury and how long it was down, the wing healed improperly, making him unable to fly. The center fortunately often finds homes for permanently injured birds at local state parks, Lichterman Nature Center, the Louisville Zoo, the Memphis Zoo, and ZooAmerica in Pennsylvania.

In addition to rehabilitation efforts, Martin says the center boasts five cages for education purposes and puts on programs for schools, Scout troops, and aviary clubs. Asked to tell an interesting fact about raptors that he might impart to others, Martin shares, "There are actually bald eagles that nest here in Shelby County along the river in Shelby Forest and T.O. Fuller State Park." Another topic the 30-year raptor rehabilitation veteran wants to touch on centers on the reason behind rehabbing birds in the first place.

"There is a controversy that rehabbing a bird is a waste of time and that Mother Nature should take its course," says Martin, "but my opinion is that, since 95 percent of the birds here have been injured by humans, it is my responsibility to get them back in the wild."

Walnut Grove Road, Memphis, TN USA
©2008 Mid-South Raptor Center. All rights reserved.