The raptor’s eyes danced with black spots. Irritated, he growled and shook his head, trying to clear his vision.
The unknown humans on the other side of the fence were very distracting. Their noise especially.
“Look at its toes, Brad!”
“What’s it shaking its head for?”
“Prob’ly ’cause you stink so bad.”
“Dude, you’re the one who just came from football practice!”
Tap tap tap FLASH
Juvenile shrieks. Sub-adult chatterings. Adult mutterings. All caused anxiety.
Click FLASH click FLASH click FLASH
The raptor glared in annoyance, but only got another eyeful of flashing lights. His toe stubs throbbed with memory; threat displays rarely made the desired impression on humans.
The unknown humans moved on, directed by the young female already known to him. He looked on with relief.
As I lead my last group of the day to the next stop, I glance back at Kaksi and smile. It’s been less than a week since he arrived at Dinosaur Conservation & Rescue League’s Cypress Center. He’s already a star. I don’t think he likes the attention, though.
Visitors admire Kaksi’s dark-silver body, oohing and aahing over the streak of vibrant blue scales running from the top of his head to the tip of his tail. Then they exclaim about his missing sickle claws, talk about how they pity the poor thing, and take photo after photo. The bigger the crowd watching him and making noise, the more agitated Kaksi gets. That’s when I move the tour along.
Once the unknown humans moved away, taking their noise with them, the raptor relaxed. It was impossible to focus on feeding with a multitude of human eyes fixed on him. With the eyes came babel. The noise caused him anxiety. The longer it lasted, the more worried he became. Increasing crowds and noise had always preceded a fight.
There had been no fights in this place.
When he first arrived, the raptor had been puzzled. There was no roof above his head. No walls blocked his vision, and the harsh echoes which had always rebounded from those walls were absent. The other creatures he could see and scent were not terrified, as all in the previous place had been.
This place seemed different.
After finishing up the tour, I head back to Kaksi’s enclosure. As part of the animal enrichment staff, when I’m not on tour duty, I’m free to spend time with the animals; my purpose in spending time with them is to enrich their day-to-day captive lives. Thus, I’m Animal Enrichment Staff. Kaksi is my particular charge.
In the wild, a lack of fear toward humans would be dangerous, probably resulting in death for the overly bold animal. Here at DCRL’s Cypress Center, it’s better if we habituate the animals to human contact, since they’ll have it pretty much every day. They’re all non-releasable, for various reasons.
Building a relationship is fun for us AES, but the ‘fun’ aspect is not the important thing. The animal’s welfare, mental as well as physical, is the focus. Companionship is very important for the social dinosaurs. If they don’t have a companion of the same species, we might mix species, but more often we carefully offer human interaction.
Dinosaur-and-human relationships can be tricky. You have to be very aware of the animal’s behavior, and the mood it indicates. Sometimes they want your company, sometimes they don’t. So far, Kaksi seems comfortable when it’s just me outside his pen.
Xavier Nichols, animal rescuer, handler, and transporter, is standing outside Kaksi’s enclosure when I get there. I call out to him. “Hi, Mr. Nichols.”
He glances at me with a smile. “Hello, Ms. Holling.” Xavier's really nice; he always calls me by my last name, never just Rachel. He does the same to almost everyone.
Gesturing at the yard’s occupant, he asks, “Can you tell me his name?”
“Kaksi. It means -”
“The number two in Finnish,” he interrupts. “I remembered the meaning, just not the word. You said it’s because he’s missing both sickle claws, right?”
I shrug. “That, or the two claws he still has on each foot.”
Mr. Nichols glances at me again. “Would you say you named him after his disability?”
“I didn’t think of it that way. . . “ I purse my lips, pondering. “I guess I did.” The thought makes me uncomfortable. Do I only see an injury, and not a creature? I groan.
“Now I wish I could change Kaksi’s name, or have someone else pick it, or . . . something. It feels really negative since you said that.”
“No, that’s not what I mean. It doesn’t have to be negative.” He looks at Kaksi with a thoughtful expression. “I’m not criticizing the choice you made, but it does interest me. When we name animals, I think we often draw on our first impressions or perceptions of them. Sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. Of course, every human, and every animal, is an individual, and as such perceives things uniquely.”
Frowning, I say, “I’m not sure I understand.”
“When you picked Kaksi’s name, you thought it fit him. I think your answer to my question proves there’s likely a deeper reason in your mind for the name fitting, not obvious on the surface. Perhaps in a way, it also signifies his second chance at life.”
“What do you mean?”
“A friend of mine found out about Kaksi, and I’m one of the guys who went to help get him out. He was used in an illegal fight ring.”
“Why would they desickle him for fights?”
“Desickling points to him having been a pet. People think they’re cute when they’re hatchlings. Some even get nearly full-term eggs so they can watch them hatch. Then they get them desickled, so they don’t scratch up the house like a cat. Once their pet reaches a certain size, the owners realize, ‘this thing can kill me, even without sickle claws,’ so they look for a way to get rid of it. Sometimes the animal ends up at a zoo or other legal attraction, but since it was probably acquired illegally, it’s best not to take it where the authorities can see. Kaksi was somehow acquired by a fight promoter.”
My stomach clenches as I look at the white scars criss-crossing Kaksi’s dark-silver hide.
“Without the sickles, Kaksi's owner probably would have gotten bigger bets against him, and gotten more money when Kaksi won. I don’t know how he managed it,” Mr. Nichols continues, “but he survived until now. He’ll be safe here. He has a second chance.”
The known male raised the now-familiar object to its face, and the raptor narrowed his eyes, prepared for the flash. None came.
As the known male walked away, the raptor found himself inordinately happy to have the known female’s solitary company. She never flashed lights at him.