Tuesday, October 18, 2016

VINS Says Goodbye to a Beloved Ambassador, Utah the Great Horned Owl

By Lauren Adams,
Lead Wildlife Keeper

You can hear him even before you get inside the building.  Each day he greets us with the characteristic “Hoothoot Hoot Hoot.” 

“Good morning, Utah,” we reply going about our daily tasks.  It is easy to take for granted a friendly conversation with one of the most fearsome predators of the sky, the Great Horned Owl.  But this is VINS, where our co-workers might have feathers and eat mice for dinner, but are no less important to our jobs than the other humans, and are equally treasured in our hearts.

If I ever forget how amazing it is to be up close and personal with a Great Horned Owl, all I need to do is attend one of our educational programs and observe the joy and awe on the faces of the audience when Utah emerges on the glove addressing the crowd with his deep voice and majestic presence.  He represents his species magnificently as an ambassador from the wild, teaching visitors to VINS about raptors, owls, their habitats and behaviors, their place in their ecosystem, and of course, their calls.

Utah came to VINS in May of 2004 from Salt Lake City, Utah where he had hatched in 2000.  After a collision with a car, Utah suffered permanent brain damage including partial blindness in one eye.  Because of his injuries, Utah remained permanently in captivity where he could live comfortably and safely.  Since arriving at VINS, Utah has been an invaluable member of our education team.  His calm temperament and easygoing personality have made him a favorite of both staff and guests alike. 

Ask anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him, though, and they will tell you that his best quality was his hoot.  From inside his crate, long before you could see him, you could hear him foreshadow the thrill that was yet to come.  There was always a buzz of anticipation in the air when Utah was scheduled to come out, and he never disappointed. 

My favorite memory of Utah was during a program with one of our educators, Nathan.  On a busy day in mid-summer, to a fully packed room, I recall the enchanted giggles of delight as Nathan demonstrated Utah’s call-and-response, hooting back and forth like they were sharing some private joke, the true meaning of which, we could only imagine.

On Friday, we said goodbye to one of our most beloved birds and friends.  Utah’s injuries and his age finally got the better of him, and he passed away, leaving a hole both in our programs and in our hearts.  It is always difficult to lose a cherished member of our education team here at VINS.  It reminds us of the fragility of the existence of a wild bird, and of how lucky we are to have them touch our lives, even briefly.  It is a little easier, though, thinking about Utah’s immeasurable contribution to VINS and the community.  In his 16 years of life, he reached thousands, maybe more. 

It will be sad to come in to work each morning and not hear his soulful greeting.  But I know how special it was to have heard it at all, and I will never forget the sound.

6 comments:

  1. So sad to hear of Utah's passing. I will surely miss the sounds and sight of our friend Utah. Fly free once, see fully once more, feel the love from your friends at VINS and every where.

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  2. Thank you for the beautiful and touching tribute to a majestic creature that has touched the lives of many.

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  3. Thank you for memorialising this individual. I hope he was as happy at VINS as you were to have him.

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  4. Thank you for memorialising this individual.

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  5. Thanks, Lauren, for this wonderful tribute to our old friend.

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  6. We are so sorry to hear about Utah's passing. He was a special treasure and we will miss seeing & hearing him on our next visit to VINS. Thinking of him always makes us smile!

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