When Madena Bennett opened up the box from the California Wildlife Center, where she volunteers, she said it “felt like Christmas morning.” Inside was an eight-week-old albino raven, so rare, there are believed to be only three others alive in the world.
“Because of the lack of melanin in their feathers, they stand out, which makes such birds targets for predators,” said the Thousand Oaks resident whose home serves as a rehabilitation center for raptors. “The condition also weakens their feathers for flying.” Because of [the bird’s] inability to survive in the wild, she became a permitted educational animal.
Bennett took in the fledgling and named her Pearl Talon. “When I posted photos of Pearl online, I would get comments from such prominent people, like the head of the California Condor program, who would exclaim, ‘Oh My God,'” she said. “They were so shocked that such a bird existed … It was like owning a mythical creature, like a white buffalo.”
Bennett would take Pearl to all types of educational events, like those held at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas, and people loved her, Bennett said. “She was a number one hit on Reddit for awhile,” she said.
Pearl was permitted to roam free in Bennett’s home and shadowed her like a loyal canine. “She was extremely smart,” she said. “Sometimes when I worked on the computer, she would nip at my back to get my attention. At first it hurt and I scolded her, so she learned how to bite without making it painful.”
Ravens, like all native birds, are a federally protected species, which makes it illegal to shoot them. But on May 13, Pearl managed to slip free of Bennett’s grasp while leaving for an event and flew away. Instantly, she was attacked by some crows protecting their babies and was driven off.
Bennett, along with some concerned volunteers, searched for days to no avail. Then, a few days later while inquiring at the Agoura Hills Animal Shelter, Bennett learned from an animal control officer that Pearl had been shot with a pellet gun about a mile from her home along Los Robles near Thousand Oaks Blvd. Though she was found alive, she died on the way to the Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital.
“I’ve never personally seen an albino raven and I’m not sure what someone’s motivation was for destroying a beautiful and unique animal,” said Dr. Evan Antin, a veterinarian at the hospital and a CV Happening contributor. “Ravens are one of the most intelligent birds in the world. It’s unfortunate to see such a special one go.”
Bennett has established a campaign on Youcaring.com to try to find Pearl’s killer and bring him or her to justice. “As Pearl had only ever known love and kindness from humans, she would have been an easy target for somebody with a gun and no respect for wildlife,” she wrote on the website.
So far, Bennett has raised over $3,400 of her $10,000 goal and has 38 days left. Though the penalty can be as much as $25,000 and up to a year in jail, Bennett is not sure how Pearl’s assailant will be punished. However, if caught, she would want the person to receive an intensive education about the value of preserving the lives of protected species.
“Pearl wasn’t just my co-educator, she was loved,” Bennett wrote on her Youcaring page. “She was brilliant, caring, playful, emotional, and she wowed every person, young or old, who had the opportunity to meet her. The loss of Pearl is a loss not just to me but to science and wildlife education everywhere.”