I never thought that I would say this, but I have committed a crime along with my friend Steve, who I was travelling with for a month in Central Asia. If we had got caught, we would’ve probably ended up in jail or paying a huge fine (or bribe…), but we both felt that it was worth the risk. What we did is reverse crime, if you ask me. Let me tell you the story and then we’ll see if you agree.
Steve and I had spent the first day in Arslanbob in West Kyrgyzstan trekking to a waterfall, but on the way back, we saw something that neither of us could ignore. We saw a huge bird (and I mean HUGE!) tied to a chunk of wood, trying to fly from the garden of the family that had captured it. There were children in the garden, tormenting the bird with sticks and metal pieces. We talked to their father, who, after much trouble with translating English and Russian, explained to us that he used the bird to make money from stupid tourists who would hold the bird for pictures. I told him that he was an idiot in Russian. He got the message. Steve saw an axe in another chunk of wood in the garden and we desperately wanted to run over there, grab it, and set the bird free.
I’m not 100 % sure, but after researching, I’m almost certain that the bird is a cinereous vulture, also known as the Eurasian black vulture. The cinereous vulture is believed to be the largest bird of prey in the world with a maximum size of 1,2 m. long and 3,1 m. across the wings, and with a weight of up to 14 kg, it’s also one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. The cinereous vulture, which is distributed through most of Eurasia, has unfortunately declined over most of its range for the last 200 years for several reasons, one of them being because they are kept in captivity and drugged for pictures in the Central Asian countries, Russia and China. Today, the worldwide population of cinereous vultures is estimated at about 5000 individuals, so it is important to preserve every one of them.
Steve and I have grown up in a world where animal abuse is illegal, although the punishments for it are low. I realize that most people would’ve just taken a picture of the bird and left, thought nothing more of it. But I couldn’t do that. This bird was trying to fly away, trying to escape to his rightful home in the mountains with all the other free birds. And we were going to help him do just that.
We walked away from the house after the guy had offered to set the vulture free if we paid him 10.000 soms. Money that we didn’t have and money that he most definitely didn’t deserve. We weren’t going to pay him a cent, we were going to free this bird on our own, but the question was how? We sat down by a building that was under construction near the house to talk about our options. Either we could run over there, cut the rope and face charges. Or we could wait until everyone had gone to bed and then do it, but it was still early evening and the risk of the guy seeing us do it was too big.
Instead, we decided that we would come back the following evening with scissors, well aware that the bird might not be there anymore.
The following evening, we waited until 11 PM and under cover of darkness, snuck out and walked the 45-minute walk back to the house where we had seen the bird. I was as paranoid as anything, afraid that people would recognize us, realize that it was us who did it and call the police on us. But we knew that even if we did get arrested for it, we could most likely just bribe them and then they would let us go. We were after all just saving a bird, not killing anyone.
Several cars went by us, and one full of drunk people even stopped to shout at us, which didn’t exactly help with my paranoia. Several times, Steve and I would split up as soon as we saw headlights, just so they wouldn’t see the both of us walking to the crime scene together. I have never been more nervous in my life.
When we finally got to the house after the nerve-wracking walk, we saw that it was lit up, which allowed us to see if anyone was awake and standing outside. No one was, so we immediately started searching for the bird with my headlamp. He wasn’t in the same spot as the day before, as we had hoped, so we had to commit another crime in order to find him: trespassing. Entering a stranger’s property is not something that I would usually do, but this time it was necessary. While Steve kept an eye on the house and any strange movements, I went searching with the headlamp, and after a while, I finally saw a huge shadow sitting on a rock. The vulture, he was right there! I was so happy that we had found him, but still as paranoid as anything and wanted to just get it over and done with. I beckoned Steve over and after he had made sure that there were no movements from the house, he walked over with the scissors and started walking around the big bird to find the rope. As he got closer, the vulture started fluttering his wings, creating so much noise that I was certain it would be heard and we would get caught. But as quickly as anything, Steve took the rope, cut it and grabbed the chunk of wood. It was time for escape, the bird was free, we had done what we could. We walked back quickly and after throwing the chunk in the river, we were finally able to reflect on what we had just done. We committed a crime and we got away with it. It wasn’t going to become a trend, although I would do the same for any other animal in any other place and at any other given time.
We committed two crimes that night: trespassing and stealing someone’s property. With the first one I agree, we did it and it was wrong, but it was necessary to commit the other crime, which I wouldn’t even classify as a crime, because a wild bird can never be anyone’s property. Now the bird is free and the world just took a small step in becoming a better place for everyone. I just hope and pray that the bird was able to fly away and eventually get the rest of the rope off his foot.
I realize that we have potentially ruined the family’s economy, but I couldn’t care less when their economy is dependent on an innocent wild animal being in captivity. What this family did is unforgivable and while I wish nothing bad to happen to them, I hope that what we did got the message through and that they’ve learnt a lesson. I doubt it though, as their mentality was clearly way different from ours, but at least they aren’t able to hurt this bird anymore.
So what do you think? Was it wrong to free the bird or did the bird deserve his freedom? Personally, I do not regret a thing and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Some things are just worth breaking the law for.