Scott Mason, bird trainer and creator of the Parahawking Project, with an Egyptian vulture.
Scott Mason? life is quite remarkable. He grew up in Essex, England in a relatively poor urban housing estate just outside London, which exposed him to wildlife, particularly birds, from a young age. Both of his parents and his school teacher encouraged an interest in nature and at 12 years old he adopted his first bird, a male barn owl. Walking the streets in the late afternoon his bird would fly from roof top to roof top or rest on his fist.
“Needless to say, I was quite the oddity amongst my neighbors,?Mason recalled.
Today, Mason lives in Nepal and offers one of the most unique and thrilling experiences that I could imagine for a bird enthusiast. “People dream of flying like a bird or with birds,?Mason said, “We can make their dreams come true.?
The Parahawking Project offers an unrivaled flying experience, where you can go paragliding over the Himalayas with a bird of prey accompanying you. The birds have been 100-percent reliable during this extraordinary interactive flying experience, with more than 600 parahawking clients.
“Flying and interacting with a bird of prey in flight, with the backdrop of the mighty Himalayas and then having that bird land gently on your arm mid flight takes people to a new place spiritually,?Mason says. He believes it is one of life? great privileges, to be part of a bird? world in the sky, with the ultimate bird? eye view.
Parahawking not only gives you an unique experience, it can help you gain a better understanding of the Egyptian vulture.
I am told the name “parahawking?was conceived in a bar over a beer (or two), with a paragliding entrepreneur in Nepal. The first idea was to train birds of prey to guide them to thermals for an optimal paragliding experience. It wasn? until Mason rescued two black kite chicks who had fallen from a nest, that a dream quickly became a possibility and then a reality.
Five years into working with the birds, people started wanting to experience this distinctive encounter themselves. Like any start-up business it was slow in the beginning. People who were hesitant of the concept began to slowly accept the idea of gliding over the Himalayas with a raptor. Then came Kevin.
Kevin, an Egyptian vulture whose white feathers resemble Andy Warhol? spiky hair, was not only incredibly consistent; he also tied in with the conservation work the organization was participating in.
“We didn? choose Egyptian vultures, they just happened to be rescued,?Mason explained. Mason runs a small raptor rescue facility at his home in Nepal. Over the years they have rescued more than 70 birds, most of which have been successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Some birds, especially orphaned chicks, which become imprinted, are unable to be released. Those birds stay at the facility and as part of an enrichment program are trained to participate with the parahawking. This behavior won a recent award at an International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators conference.
For many years, Mason had admired Egyptian Vultures while paragliding in Nepal. “I never imagined that we would end up with two of them and that they would form the backbone of what is now a fairly successful business venture,?he said.
Mason accomplished this experience through a training process called chaining, where he laid out a plan and trained several small steps, putting them together at the end. “Once I achieved the basics, the focus was on consistency and repetition and obviously reward,?Mason said. “We never fly or exercise our birds unless they are flying with a paraglider, that? the key to their reliability.?lt;/span>
Aside from the safety weight and age restrictions I couldn? imagine any bird enthusiast who wouldn? enjoy this experience.
Scott Mason, creator of Parahawking, calls the experience of gliding and then having a bird land on your arm mid-flight, a “spiritual” one.
“My youngest passenger was five and my oldest passenger was 90, who told me after her flight that it was the best thing she had ever done in her life. Now that? something,?Mason said enthusiastically. Mason? goal is to encourage people to connect with nature and also take away knowledge of the problems vultures are facing in the wild. With each flight, $10 USD is donated to vulture conservation projects in Nepal. Everyone who flies instantly become a conservation donor. Mason says that their best passengers are those who are interested in the birds, with paragliding acting as the medium. Mason, a self proclaimed bird nerd, welcomes thrill seekers but even more so those who want to experience their inner bird.
Parahawking season starts around mid October and runs through mid April. My only hesitation, which is also part of the appeal, is that it is located in Nepal. With recent earthquakes I think immediately about safety. Mason wants to get the message out that while some rural parts of the county did have devastating effects, the county as a whole is still functioning.
Mason says that “Many of the popular trekking routes were unaffected, especially in the Annapurna region, as was Chitwan and Bardia National parks. Pokhara was completely unaffected and as such all tourism activities and hotels are operating as normal, including Parahawking.?He adds that Nepal? economy relies heavily on tourism and it is really important that people understand that by visiting Nepal, you are directly helping the economy and helping rebuild the areas that were most affected by the earthquakes.
Mason also has another message about vultures in particular. “There is no better way to empathize with the misunderstood vultures than to share the sky with them and interact with them in their own environment,?he said.
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