Scarlette, 1989 to 2011

The Wildlife Center was saddened by the loss of a long-time member of its environmental education animal ambassador team yesterday, March 6, when Scarlette the Red-tailed Hawk passed away.  Scarlette had been ill for the past week.  Despite numerous blood tests, radiographs, and an ultrasound, the veterinary team has been unable to make a diagnosis thus far.  Thoughts on the passing of Scarlette, from WCV President Ed Clark: Over the last 28 years, there have been more than 56,000 patients passing through our doors.  A select few of them, all with injuries beyond our capacity to repair, made the transition from patient to team member.  Few of these wildlife ambassadors have had as great an impact on the public, or on the Wildlife Center family, as did Scarlette, the Red-tailed Hawk.  Her passing this week has left a huge hole in our team and in our hearts. Scarlette came to the Center in 1989, as a still-fuzzy chick.   Her nest was in a tree located on the property of Busch Gardens, near Williamsburg, Virginia.  Unfortunately, land-clearing operations for a new attraction led to the inadvertent felling of the nest tree, spilling Scarlette and her nest-mate to the ground.  Both chicks were brought to the Wildlife Center.  While her sibling was able to be raised, rehabilitated, and released, Scarlette's wrist joint was crushed, leaving her unable to fly. As unfortunate as Scarlette's injury was, she was destined to become one of our premier representatives, known and loved by literally tens of thousands of people.  Scarlette's story was the perfect illustration of how choices have consequences, and how what we have often comes at the expense of what we destroy in the process of getting it.   One of my favorite ways to lead into Scarlette's story, especially with kids, was always to ask how many kids liked roller-coasters.  Invariably, all hands would wave in the air.  Then I would ask how many kids like beautiful hawks.  Again, all hands would shoot up.  When I then asked which of the two they liked best, I would be greeted with a sea of confused expressions, since the question seemed like a non sequitur.  This confusion would lead to a very meaningful discussion of habitat loss.   Scarlette's tree was her habitat--all of it, since she was still confined to the nest.  When we use land for things we want--roller coasters, highways, homes, stores, baseball fields, etc.--it means that we are giving up whatever was on that land before.  Scarlette, in effect, gave a face to the issue of habitat loss, and helped legions of children appreciate that many of the things we have come at a cost to the natural world.  In a moment, she could transform the abstract concept of the loss of acres and square miles of land, in parts of the world kids had never visited, in countries whose names they had never heard.  Her story helped audiences of all ages understand that habitat is home to wildlife. Over the years, Scarlette graced a number of very well-know venues.  She accompanied me to the stage at the Kennedy Center, to national award ceremonies, and countless presentations for some of the nation's leading conservation organizations--to say nothing of the thousands of programs in which she participated with other members of the Wildlife Center team.  She always made an impression, and always was able to convey so much more with her regal beauty than I ever could with my words.  She was, indeed, an ambassador for all things wild. Several years ago, the Virginia Conservation Network -- the state's conservation coalition -- honored Scarlette's contributions to Virginia's environment by naming a lifetime achievement award after her -- the Scarlette Award.  I was incredibly honored to be the first recipient of this award, and even more honored that Scarlette was there with me to receive it. Scarlette greeted her last visitors to the Wildlife Center two weeks ago, and was as impressive in her final days as she was when she first arrived here, 22 years ago.  Our friend and colleague is gone, but her life has made an impact that will make a difference for generations to come. R.I.P., dear friend.  You will be missed.

photo by Jim Deal