Papa G’Ho was admitted to the Center in 2001 after he sustained injuries to his wings and feet, likely from being hit by a vehicle. The veterinary team found that Papa was missing a small bone at the tip of his wing -- the equivalent of his thumb. Although it’s a small permanent injury, it had a big impact on Papa – he never regained his ability to fly silently, which is critical to the hunting success of owls in the wild. Because noisy flight would inhibit his ability to survive independently, he could not be released back into the wild.
Instead of joining the Center’s education ambassador team, Papa joined the staff and filled another critical role – the job of an owl surrogate. Surrogate birds provide an adult role model to young members of their species to counter their interaction with human caregivers and help avoid improper imprinting. The surrogate parent demonstrates proper behaviors for their species and reinforces their wariness of humans. This enables the young birds to be released back into the wild with appropriate behaviors, vocalizations, and reactions to humans.
Though he is non-releasable, the Center staff takes great care in keeping Papa G’Ho “wild” to ensure that the owlets he raises will be able to survive and thrive on their own. Papa lives in the patient area of the Wildlife Center, and is not on display for tour groups or open houses.
As of the spring of 2019, Papa has raised an astounding 43 baby Great Horned Owlets! His other claims to fame include winning the 2012 “Coolest Dad” contest with Virginia Living magazine, in which he won $10 worth of mice. WAMU featured Papa in a radio piece in 2013.
Papa, hard at work in his 17+ years at the Wildlife Center: