At last count, the incredible video an eagle flying near Mont Blanc in Haute-Savoie, France, had over six million views (see at bottom of post). And why not — it’s astounding to be peering over the head of a raptor as its soars above one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. Yet many people thought it was fake, and given the ease with which internet scams catch fire, skepticism isn’t unreasonable. But the video is very real.
It’s the product of a man named Jacques Olivier Travers, who runs a raptor center and theme park in Haute-Savoie called Les Aigles du Léman. Travers fell in love with raptors as a boy and became a falconer in his early 20s. At 22, he became the youngest person in France to be certified to keep raptors in captivity, and he opened the park shortly after that to nurture injured birds, reintroduce them to the wild, and give people a closer view of these creatures.
In November 2006, he paraglided with ospreys “to raise public awareness of the fragility of these giants on the planet. Beyond awareness he also wanted to give a chance to birds that had spent their entire lives in an aviary become true eagles to move through the air like their wild cousins,” the park says.
“What seemed a crazy bet has proved an extraordinary instrument of learning flight for birds. So much so that they found a total independence after a few months opening the door to a new technique.”
Flying of course comes naturally to the birds, but raptors born in captivity need to be trained before they can be released into the wild. The traditional process, hacking, is expensive and time consuming — the birds are kept in a box in a hacking tower, which becomes their secure nesting area, and they gradually learn to fly, then hunt, then eat only what they catch themselves.
Travers says that flying in tandem with the birds offers a faster alternative to hacking, and in 2007 he launched Wings of Freedom, a paraglider-based program to speed up their reintroduction.
Travers is very much an evangelist for the birds, and he exposing them to the public as much as possible. In the video above, a white-tailed eagle named Victor flies with a skier for a show on TF1, France’s most popular TV network.