Birds of prey have been a lifelong passion of Jason’s for over 25 years This interest was encouraged at a young age and upon leaving school he started his professional career at the Sussex Falconry Centre under the stern guidance of the owner and his mentor Noel Pannell. Education, conservation and free flying presentations were his major focus, and during his many years as head falconer Jason was able to feed his love and obsession of these magnificent animals. During those early years he had the opportunity to branch out into many different areas within the industry, from the daily running of a busy demonstration centre to flying the many different raptor species housed there, helping with the various breeding projects facilitated onsite, to teaching students the art and craft of falconry.
Then in 2003 he was approached and offered the chance to utilise his knowledge to work alongside many different wildlife careers in the training, welfare, rehabilitation and eventual release of wild injured birds of prey in Perth, Western Australia. Jason became a qualified wildlife rehabilitator with C.A.L.M (Conservation and Land Management) and the next year was spent training, flying and releasing (under licence) birds back into their native environment. Jason was to meet many dedicated raptor specialists during that first year, most notability Stuart and his wife Amanda and Phil the owner of Eagles Heritage located in the Margret River.
Falconry is not widely spread throughout Australia; only a handful of zoos have bird of prey demonstrations and falconry as a sport – in the hunting sense – is illegal, so for Nikol becoming a falconer in any sense of the word was not something she ever imagined doing as a young girl. After studying and working in tourism and hospitality for a few years then working numerous different jobs and trialing various occupations around the country, at the age of 20 she was still looking for a career that she could feel passionate about. This was when she heard about a new wildlife park being built just a stone’s throw away from her home in Alice Springs.
By the time the Park opened to public in April 1997, Nikol had earned a position as a zookeeper. Nikol spent the majority of her time as a volunteer in the bird department, then as a full time keeper, moved to the mammal department for a short stint. In the mean time, she had again been unexpectedly taken in by the free-flying birds of prey. She started spending time outside of working hours with a friend and colleague, Kim Branch who began teaching her the basics of rehabilitating a Black Kite. This was enough for Nikol to decide that this was definitely and without a doubt, what she wanted to do. Her persistence paid off just months later when she was offered the opportunity to move to the Nature Theatre department to do bird of prey demonstrations. In later years, a range of other animals was incorporated into shows such as an Australian Dingo, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Tawny Frogmouth and a range of wild animals that frequented the shows such as Butcherbirds and Perentis (large Goanna).
Upon completion of Jason’s contract at the Desert Park, he and Nikol formed New World Falconry and were offered a year’s contract at the Dullstroom Bird of Prey and Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa. Daily flying displays, educational talks, breed and release programs and rehabilitation with injured birds of prey were Jason and Nikol’s main duties. Of course, time allowing they spent many hours watching some of Africa’s most incredible wildlife up close and personal and meeting some fantastic people who were all dedicated to preserving the country’s wealth of wildlife for future generations. Within a blink of an eye it was soon time for the pair of them to head off down to KwaZulu-Natal to help set up the running of a new raptor park, which wound up the last 4 months of their first South Africa tour.
Trading in the warmth and heat of South Africa, Jason and Nikol’s next port of call was to run a large falconry centre in Scotland for the next 12 months. From there it was time to head back over to South Africa, where they spent another year back at the Dullstroom bird of prey centre at the bequest of the owners, before moving over to Swaziland to help set up a small raptor facility working alongside the Swaziland National Trust and their amazing wildlife rangers. This was a magical time for both Nikol and Jason and a pretty scary time too!! From being stalked by leopards, to being bombarded by hailstones the size of tennis balls and of course, meeting an abundance of highly venomous snakes (which Jason always had an unfortunate habit of almost standing on) and the morning greetings from a resident troop of Baboons.
The next 8 months were spent flying many different raptor species in one of the most incredible flying arena’s in the world. Nestled in amongst the mountainous region of the North West was Ngwenya mine, this dramatic landscape was home to the oldest iron ore mine in the world. Records show that the mine (in all its incarnations) dates back over 45.000 years!! Many different races and cultures worked Ngwenya, from the San People to the Egyptian Pharaohs (many of the components to make the inks used in hieroglyphic writing came from the mine), and in fairly modern times by the Chinese, its metals being used to make cars.
Both Nikol and Jason were genuinely heartbroken to leave this tiny landlocked kingdom, but nature calls as they say and it was soon time to head over to Southern Ireland for 11 months, flying hawks in the stunning grounds of Ashford Castle in County Mayo (once the family home of the Guinness family, and yes we are talking about the beer). The Emerald Isle is ruggedly beautiful, in places it can be quite stark and barren, and with the Atlantic Ocean just a stone’s throw away, it was also cold and wet!! But it’s an amazing and beautiful place, filled with fantastic people and a place to make firm friends.
Once again it was time to head off to new horizons, so from the windswept shores of Ireland to the tropical rainforest of Cairns, Australia. Nikol was rather glad to be back in the heat and sun of her homeland, and while she took up the position of head bird trainer at the Cairns Tropical Zoo, Jason spent the next 12 months putting pen to paper and began working on this two books detailing his many adventures throughout his time in both Australia and South Africa.
Like much of their journeys around the world, Nikol and Jason finished off their time in Queensland in a rather dramatic style…….In a category 5 cyclone!! The storm front was larger than the entire size of the United Kingdom,
Once back in the UK, Jason and Nikol spent the next few years as consultants before setting up their new home base at the estate in Fernhurst.