In woods or other natural environments, a person could walk right by someone in a ghillie suit without realizing there’s a human there. These outfits provide deep camouflage for hunters, paintballers and even military operatives — or they could make a decent Halloween costume for someone who wants to look like a leafy creature.
They are also helpful when working with injured birds of prey, when the goal is to avoid showing a human face to the rehab patient.
The Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo’s raptor rehabilitation center received an orphaned turkey vulture nestling at the beginning of June from another rehabber in Kansas, Zoo Supervisor and Curator Ashley Burdick said.
“When we receive baby birds, we try our best to conceal our human features by refraining from talking, wearing a ghillie suit and spending as little time with them as possible.”
The goal is to keep the bird from imprinting with humans. Burdick explained, “Young birds typically imprint on their own species and carry that with them for life; this is where they gain their sense of species. When raised in human care, they can sometimes visually imprint on humans and associate with them for the rest of their life. If a wild animal imprints on a human they may associate a human as the one who brings food and rely on humans to feed them. This can also prove dangerous if they come across the wrong human who may wish to inflict harm on the animal.”
The ghillie suit works most of the time and has been successful as the zoo rehabbed three great horned owl chicks and a Cooper’s hawk chick this year. Rehabbed birds are released back into the wild whenever possible, but that won’t be possible with the young turkey vulture, which did imprint to humans.
“Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the bird imprints anyway,” Burdick said.
For now, the vulture is sharing space with Tina, the senior turkey vulture.
“We are in the process of filing transfer paperwork, but our hope is to add this vulture to our collection where he or she will live with our current resident vulture Tina,” Burdick said. “We started working on introducing the two together and so far they seem indifferent to one another.”
The City of Great Bend currently requires face masks to be worn in city buildings, which includes the Raptor Center/gift shop at the zoo. Masks may be removed when visitors are outdoors at the zoo, so long as people maintain social distancing when interacting with the staff or other visitors.