By Drew Radford
Animals being trained to attack machines sounds like the plot of a B Grade movie, however it’s just another day in the office for the staff at Raptor Domain on Kangaroo Island.
“We have been training our falcons, two large females and a boy, to trace a drone with a lure attached to it and take down the lure from the drone,” says Stephanie Gilbert.
It’s claimed to be an Australian first and there’s no doubt the added attraction will lure even more tourists to one of the the island’s most popular destinations.
But dive bombing falcons are not Raptor Domain’s core business.
“Our main goal is to rehabilitate the birds but we are doing it from an educational perspective as well. So we do educational shows, birds of prey flight displays as well as a venomous show and a non venomous show for children to learn about the reptiles of Australia,” say’s Stephanie.
The business is owned and managed by Dave Irwin (yes, a relative of those other well known Irwins!) and his wife Leeza.
Dave is a qualified zookeeper who, after working all over Australia, chose 150 acres on the edge of Seal Bay to set up this unique business.
Stephanie says a key to the visitor experience is being able to interact with the birds.
“There’s opportunities to pop on a glove and hold a variety of different birds, including holding on to a Wedge-tailed eagle yourself and the children are able to hold smaller raptors as well.”
To dispel any doubt about how close visitors get, Stephanie is speaking while petting Jack, a five-month-old Wedgie perched on her arm.
“He unfortunately was found on the side of a road… he’s got a bit of a weaker eye, it’s often closed. We believe that eye will make a full recovery,” Stephanie adds.
Part of Jack’s rehabilitation includes teaching him to hunt, which involves him chasing a lure that is pulled across a paddock. The lure chasing has been adapted for the park’s Peregrine falcons – they are the ones now chasing a lure hanging from a drone.
Blink though and you will miss it, a falcon can dive bomb at over 300 kph!
While these Peregrines are not quite yet hitting that speed, the Park has had to upgraded to a racing drone to try and stay ahead of them.
While dive bombing falcons are unique, Stephanie says she gets the most satisfaction from visitors interacting with the animals and often over coming their personal fears.
“I think that’s the best thing to see, we had a lady recently who after seeing the show did hold a snake for the first time in her life,” Stephanie says.
“It was that moment, letting her know that the snakes aren’t out there to harm you and they are an incredible animal in their own right as well.”
Stephanie Gilbert from Kangaroo Island’s Raptor Domain describes the Park’s latest tourist attraction, Peregrine falcons that dive bomb lures hung from drones.. listen here
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