SARstories News is our blog for all things Search & Rescue: interesting mission reports and articles, featured SAR teams and new items on the website, upcoming conferences, gear reviews, and anything else that piques our interest and we hope will pique yours.

Learn About Becoming a SAR Volunteer

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