Conservation Education: The Urban Interface

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By Sarah Kinzbach Williams

Urban3Freyja’s stare is piercing. Her body is beautiful and poised with a grace from which you can’t look away. She emanates power and, in an instance, you feel as if she has judged your soul with her brown-eyed glare. The likes of Freyja have been the source for countless totems, legends, and are rife with symbolism. Indigenous tribes would even revere her as sacred. Dante is equally as stunning, albeit more willing to warily observe from a distance. The eerie beauty and stealth he displays likely contributed to ghost stories and haunted lore.

Dante and Freyja are birds of prey, or raptors, and, along with Tybalt, a retired racing pigeon, have impressive resumes of public engagements on behalf of The Urban Interface, a conservation education program based at Millican Reserve. Urban Interface is a non-profit 501c3 organization caring for non-releasable native wildlife while training them as ambassadors for educational purposes.

Freyja is such an ambassador. Found injured in south College Station, the red-tail hawk now has metal pins stabilizing a broken wing and is unable to fly well enough to survive on her own, says Urban Interface Executive Director Corey Batson. Adjusting to life as an education ambassador was an easy transition for Freyja, says Batson. “She’s a feisty bird but very forgiving,” Batson adds. “She’s very interested in watching people.”

Freyja, along with Dante, a barn owl, and Tybalt, help teach students of all ages about raptors, native species, and wildlife conservation.

Owl Cover“We teach their biology, their natural history, and conservation,” says Batson. “[We teach] why we need to respect them and help ecologically.” Through an activity-based program, Batson says most engagements are around an hour long and serve as a way to start a discussion about nature and conservation.

“We want to reconnect people with nature,” says Batson. Formerly focused on technology and video games, Batson says that all changed when he began hiking and working outdoors with birds through an organization similar to The Urban Interface. He now advocates learning how to balance technology and nature. Using YouTube and social media as a teaching measure, Batson wants to encourage people to take a break and engage outside with what’s going on in the world around them.

Still a grassroots organization, Batson says The Urban Interface aims for more. Based at Millican Reserve, the organization will soon contribute to the outdoor classroom experience. “It’s an ongoing project,” Batson explains. Currently, Freyja, Dante, and Tybalt are housed in a converted stable, but Batson is hoping to build a new facility capable of housing more animal ambassadors and being a public space for field trips and visits. Along with expanding the ambassador program at The Urban Interface, the organization is working towards a hiking trail system.

“Our organization as a whole would love to offer more than animals,” says Batson. From foraging lessons to star gazing parties, Batson says The Urban Interface would ideally allow people to disconnect and get out in nature.

Programs for schools and school systems are available free of charge. “We want to be a resource for them for experiential learning and to teach about life sciences,” says Batson. Educational programs are easily modified for the audience and to reflect current learning initiatives. The Urban Interface also provides demonstrations for organizations outside of the school systems; there is a charge for these kinds of events.

Urban5“[As a public charity,] all funding comes straight from the community and people who are invested in what we do,” says Batson. With so much vision and room for expansion, Batson says any support is greatly appreciated.

Interested in getting involved? For more information, visit www.theurbaninterface.com.

About the Ambassadors
Dante
Dante is a 3-year-old male barn owl. As a baby, Dante fell out of his nest and broke his wing. He was found by a farmer and released to a rehabilitation facility. Unfortunately, an infection set in the broken wing and had to be surgically amputated. Batson describes Dante as a solitary bird who enjoys sitting on the glove during a presentation and listening to everything around him. His habitat contains wide ramps and stable perches to assist with his lack of balance due to the amputation. In the wild, barn owls often inhabit abandoned buildings or old barns. They also do not hoot like most owl species; rather, they call with an alarming shrill screech. With their preferred habitat and haunting call, barn owls are thought to be the source of ghost stories and eidolic tales.

Freyja
Freyja is an adult female red-tail hawk, a common, native raptor indigenous to the continental United States. Freyja joined The Urban Interface in May 2014 after sustaining a severe wing injury. To stabilize the wing, two metal pins were implanted and although she has fully recovered, she will never fly well enough to hunt. Freyja is an intelligent bird and Executive Director Corey Batson says she quickly transitioned into her life as an educational ambassador.

Tybalt
Tybalt is a retired racing pigeon bred in captivity. During a race, Tybalt suffered an eye injury likely sustained from a predatory attack and was released to TUI. His eye is now fully healed and Tybalt is enjoying life full of attention as an educational ambassador. While not as formidable as Freyja and Dante, Tybalt’s curious expressions and lovable, attention-seeking personality make him an approachable favorite as a TUI ambassador.