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Founder of Raven Oaks Raptor Sanctuary speaks at Kiwanis meeting
Kiwanis Raptor 2
Debra Baca, founder of Raven Oaks Raptor Sanctuary, holds “Luna,” a red-tail hawk, while speaking at a Kiwanis Club meeting Thursday. - photo by Special
   The red-tail hawk perched upon Debra Baca’s leather-wrapped fist, flapping broad wings that occasionally brushed her face as she spoke to the Statesboro Kiwanis Club Thursday.
    Baca is founder of Raven Oaks Raptor Sanctuary, a 5013C nonprofit organization which rescues raptors — hawks, owls and even buzzards. She heals their wounds, rehabilitates them and most often releases them back into the wild. However, some birds, such as the hawk who accompanied her Thursday, can’t be released. She places those in educational facilities such as the Georgia Southern University Wildlife Center or keeps them for her own use for educational programs.
    With an extensive background in nature preservation, Baca first began her mission to help raptors and other wild animals when she found an injured chicken on her grandfather’s farm. Using a Popsicle stick, she splinted the bird’s injury and discovered how she could help. It never ended, she said.
    Baca’s interest in rescuing raptors led to Raven Oaks being founded in 2000 in central Florida. However, after the hurricanes of 2004, the Bacas moved to Statesboro, where Baca now operates the rescue at her Honeysuckle Lane home. She is now an apprentice falconer and is federally licensed to rescue, rehabilitate and release.
    “Our mission is to lessen the impact of man’s footprint on nature,” she told the group.
    In addition to showing the red-tail hawk, which is awaiting a name but called Luna in the meantime, Baca also showed photos on a screen of numerous birds the rescue has handled.
    Luna will receive her “true” name when a corporation makes a donation, Baca said. Naming the birds is an honor reserved for those donors, but the hawk, shot in the wing with a .22, seems to answer to Luna just fine, she said.
    Baca explained the difference between her rescue operation and what GSU does at the university’s raptor center.
    “We’re a nonprofit rescue, not affiliated with the GSU Wildlife Center,” she explained, adding that may confused the two. GSU is an educational center but does not rescue injured animals, although in the past it has done so.
    “We are the only ones in the area with permits to rescue ...” she said. “Through our special educational programs we try to let people know birds of prey are at the top of the chain. If we start losing them, we’ll have problems.”
    Baca said recent development along the Veteran’s Memorial Parkway has resulted in an unusually high number of injured birds. “ Almost every day I release (another bird) and lately I was getting three calls a day about injured birds in the area. It was incredible. Most of them, thank God, just needed fluids and rest.”
    Baca said raptors in captivity live much longer than those in the wild but only the birds who cannot survive in the wild are kept — all others are released, preferably near their home area.
    For more information on Raven Oaks, contact Baca at (912) 618-8888.

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