Patrick Benson doesn’t remember a time when raptors weren’t a part of his life. Being born in Boise, Idaho, to parents with a love of the outdoors influenced him greatly, as did his early encounters with Morley Nelson, the falconer down the road. Pat spent weekends and after-school hours outdoors - camping, hunting, fishing or “flying hawks”. A conservation ethic, instilled early on, influenced his decision to become a biologist. Pat’s earliest summer jobs often involved helping Nelson with films or research, including some of the original studies on raptor electrocution at power lines. At 18, his first job with the U. S. Government was a month long job banding Golden Eagles in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico for the Fish and Wildlife Service. That same summer, 1969, he was on the National Boy Scout Jamboree conservation staff, at Farragut, Idaho and then spent six weeks on the Juneau Ice Field, as a winner of a National Exploration Award with the Exploring Division of the Boy Scouts of America and the Explorers Club. That fall, Pat entered Boise State University to pursue a biology degree. From then to graduation in 1973, life remained the same, with some interesting summer jobs including working on film; as a research assistant studying Sandhill Cranes; and as a life guard at Boise City’s swimming pools.
The summer of 1974 Benson worked for the Bureau of Land Management conducting raptor and stream surveys in west central Utah. In the fall, he entered the raptor biology programme of Brigham Young University to pursue a PhD. A year later, Pat took a sabbatical to work as a U.S. Forest Service biologist, writing a raptor management plan for the Caribou National Forest. Returning to BYU in 1976, his studies and teaching of Vertebrate Zoology resumed. It was time to choose a thesis research area. His experience with raptor electrocution had attracted the attention of the Edison Electric Institute, a consortium of electric power companies. The research involved determining the ecological factors influencing the incidence of raptor electrocutions, and provided Pat the opportunity to travel around the western U. S. comparing biological, topographic, edaphic, seasonal and other factors responsible for raptor electrocutions. His dissertation research resulted in guidelines for the electric power industry’s placement of power lines to prevent raptor electrocutions.
When he finished his studies in December 1980, Pat headed to South Africa for an eight month project to determine the calcium requirements of Cape Vultures, large colonial nesting scavengers, whose young sometimes have skeletal abnormalities. Things didn’t work out as planned and over 30 years later Pat is still studying Cape Vulture biology! This project is the most extensive study conducted on this bird, including monitoring of over 23,000 nesting attempts at the Kransberg colony in the Waterberg Mountains of South Africa’s Limpopo Province. Pat is attached to the School of animal, plant & environmental sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. He has also conducted research on other southern African vulture species.
Since 2000, Pat has worked with The Peregrine Fund in Pakistan and India studying the decline of south Asia’s vultures due to the use of an anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac, in cattle, the vultures’ main food. Smitten by the “sub-continent” Pat’s dream is to move to India to study vultures and other raptors, once completing his South African work. The Himalaya and particularly the Tibetan Plateau, with its Golden Eagles, Himalayan Vultures, wolves, snow leopards and large falcons, and Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan of central India, with their tigers, Bonelli’s Eagles and Black Shaheen Peregrines fascinate this ever inquisitive biologist. Whitehawk and Pat Benson share a passion for wildlife conservation world-wide and hope to nurture this passion in like-minded people searching for the best of outdoor experiences.