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Friday, October 8, 2010

K-9 SAR, Mounted SAR ... Raven SAR?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
We all know about SAR dogs. And we know that searchers ride horses in the field, and that horses themselves have a knack for finding people. But Search & Rescue ravens?

Absolutely, says doctoral student Emily Cory. And she's got her pet raven, Shade, to prove it. When Shade showed signs of extreme intelligence, Emily decided to train him in the art of hide-and-seek in hopes of assisting search and rescue teams.

Emily grew up in Sedona, Arizona, where she would often hear helicopters flying over, searching for lost hikers. As an adult, Emily worked with birds at the Arizona-Sonora Museum, where a common raven caught her attention. She says, “[The raven] would play horrible tricks on the volunteers, she’d get in so much trouble. She never forgot a thing, never missed a thing [and] that really got my attention.”

So, Emily purchased Shade and began to train the bird to look for lost hikers by using elaborate games of hide-and-seek, while writing her Master’s thesis on the project. Shade demonstrated an uncanny knack for finding anything Emily would hide, sometimes looking in places Emily never thought to hide the objects. She also noticed that Shade understood verbal commands.

Emily Cory hopes to train Shade to work in the back country, flying back and forth between hiker and trainer with a GPS attached to his foot. But, as of yet, no colleagues or professors have agreed to support this research. Nonetheless, Emily has begun a Ph.D. program at the University of Arizona focusing on ravens and language.

Read: Someday This Raven May Come To The Rescue

Listen to the story on NPR

2 comments:

Chris said...

Ravens and the other corvids are the smartest of birds and are known tool users and problem-solvers. This would seem like valuable research with some potential for a new aerial form of SAR reconnaissance.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with crows outside Paris, France. We had a young each spring until he/she would fly away in the fall. They are smart, found cunning ways to reach objects they wanted and flew home from a few miles away.

If trained over several years, I am sure they would have performed wonders. I never tried that as we let them go back to the colony instead of forcing them to live with humans. But it would be a worthy experiment.