PARAGLIDING - Vulture Culture

By Green, Graeme | The Spectator, October 23, 2010 | Go to article overview

PARAGLIDING - Vulture Culture


Green, Graeme, The Spectator


Graeme Green learns the ways of birds - by flying with them across the Himalayas

I meet Kevin on the edge of Lake Phewa, in the foothills of the Annapurna mountains. Kevin is the perfect guide: intelligent, fit, charming and an expert on these parts of the Nepali Himalayas. He's also a five-year-old Egyptian vulture.

Kevin's agent is Scott Mason, an English falconry expert and creator of a unique activity known as parahawking. Mason started parahawking here in 2001, combining his two passions:

working with birds and paragliding.

He's based just outside the tourist hub of Pokhara, working out of Maya Devi restaurant, a buzzing meeting place for the area's local paragliding community, where he also keeps Kevin, another Egyptian vulture called Bob and three black kites, Brad, Sapana and Goggles. All five are rescue birds, part of Mason's Himalayan Raptor Rescue project, unable to be returned to the wild.

'Each bird has its own skills and characteristics, ' Mason tells me, as we meet the team. Some are cocky, some mischievous; some are better at crosscountry flights, others, like Brad, are experts at aerial manoeuvres.

It's Kevin, though, who remains the star. 'Kevin's shot to stardom in recent years for being the first and, for a while, the only parahawking vulture.

He also plays a vital role as the ambassador for the plight of Asia's vultures, so considering his fame, he's remained a very phlegmatic individual.'

We get geared up and take off from the launch spot on the Sarangkot hillside, our glider's sails filling with wind just as we run out of ground. Once in the air, it's a strange feeling, both exhilarating and calm.

Mason expertly flies the paraglider, while I sit up front keeping an eye on Kevin, who seeks out the thermals that lift both birds and paragliders. Mason follows his lead.

I blow the whistle to call Kevin.

He glides in with astonishing speed and accuracy, snatches a chunk of buffalo meat from my gloved fingers (his reward for good work) and flies off into the blue to find another thermal. …

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