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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Gurkha Training

Air Date: Week of

To combat illegal theft of bird eggs in Great Britain, one conservation group has enlisted the assistance of a special British armed force. Host Steve Curwood talks with Graham Madge, spokesperson for the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.


CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth. A peculiar British hobby is threatening dozens of species of birds. Hundreds of people, it seems, are stealing and collecting the eggs of endangered avians. In response, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, or the RSPB, has enlisted the help of the British Army’s famed Gurkhas in a covert mission to catch the nest robbers. Graham Madge is a spokesman for the Royal Society. Welcome.

MADGE: Hi, good day.

CURWOOD: Graham Madge, tell me, what is the problem of endangered bird egg theft in England?

MADGE: Well, this is a crime that we know of no comparison in other parts of the world. But here in the U.K., we have a very hard core of egg collectors. And their sole mission in life is to go around and collect the eggs of very, very rare birds.

CURWOOD: Now, what do these egg collectors do? I guess they’re probably not going to make omelets with these things.

MADGE: No, indeed. What they do is they actually raid the nests. Normally, they’ll take the whole clutch of eggs. They take them home. They actually drill two small holes, one in either end of the egg, and then blow the contents of the egg out, so that all they’re left with, then, is the calcium shell. It’s a real perverted hobby. Because we can’t understand what these guys -- and it generally is guys -- actually get out of it. All they can do is just keep these eggs in cases lined with cotton wool. They don’t show their collection to anybody else because it’s highly illegal and all the contents will be seized. So we don’t know what they get out of it other than causing the RSPB and the police a lot of annoyance.

CURWOOD: I understand now that you’ve teamed up with the British Army regiment the Gurkhas, from Asia, to help you train members of your organization. Some of our listeners here in the United States might not have a clue to what a Gurkha is. Can you tell us who are the Gurkhas?

MADGE: The Gurkhas are an infamous regiment. They’ve been in operation for many, many years. They fought heavily during the Second World War. They have their bases, really, in the Orient. But they do have a U.K. base and they are part of the British Army. And they were absolutely feared during the Second World War. They led many operations behind enemy lines.

CURWOOD: Now what have your staff members learned from the Gurkhas?

MADGE: Well, we’ve learned a whole raft of different skills, from things like night surveillance, how to remain concealed within the field, how to camouflage your observation points, a whole raft of different things, really, that will enable us to protect these very rare birds.

CURWOOD: By the way, how did you get in touch with the Gurkhas?

MADGE: It was actually one of our staff who had the idea, realized that the Gurkha regiment was based just down the road from where we were holding some of our own operations. And in a flash of brilliance, possibly in a pub over a pint, came up with the idea and it was one that was pursued. And of course, some of the best, perhaps wackiest, ideas are the ones that are the best.

CURWOOD: Graham Madge is a spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the United Kingdom. Thanks so much for speaking with me.

MADGE: Thank you, indeed.



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