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Soaring eagle films crumbling Alpine glaciers as Earth warms

by Ace Damon
Victor White-tailed eagle

Claire Parker and John Leicester, Associated Press

Published Wednesday, 2 October 2019 19:51

PARIS – The images will be incredibly beautiful, but they will also indicate dire future consequences. Filmed with a camera mounted between its majestic wings, they will show how a white-tailed eagle named Victor sees the world as he flies over the Alps and captures his once magnificent glaciers now ruined by global warming.

Their loss is unlikely to be a pretty sight. And that is the point.

Victor will board five flights this week over the Alps. Organizers hope their spectacular images of an eagle's vision will help shake the world from apathy for climate change and take swifter action to counteract its effects.

His coach hopes that seeing the world as an eagle will also convince viewers of the importance of protecting birds and their environment, especially after a recent and devastating report recorded their decline.

"Humanity has two dreams: swimming with dolphins and flying with eagles," said French falconer and Freedom Conservation founder Jacques-Olivier Travers. "It's the first time we've ridden on an eagle's back for these distances and views and see how it flies."

"How can you convince people to protect birds and their environment if you never show them what birds see?" he added.

Weather permitting, the nine-year-old Victor will depart Thursday from the top of Swiss mountain Piz Corvatsch with a 360-degree camera in the back and a GPS to track his progress. He will travel to Germany, Austria and Italy before ending his tour in France on October 7th.

A colleague will release Victor from the top of each peak. During each flight, the eagle flies three to five kilometers (1.8 to 3.1 miles) – and descends from 1,500 to 3,000 meters (5,000 to 9,800 feet) – in search of Travers below.

"I don't have a remote control. So if he doesn't see me and decides not to come to me, he can go anywhere," Travers said.

This is why flights depend on the weather. If Victor's vision is clouded, "he won't come," Travers said. "It's essential that he see me."

Carrying a camera slows Victor down.

"It's like putting a washing machine on the roof of your car. You don't go that fast and consume more power," Travers said. "It's the same for him. He doesn't fly that fast with his back and requires more effort from him."

But Victor's previous flights over Paris and Burj Khalifa have received millions of views, and organizers hope the heavy work of the bird will produce powerful images that make the disappearing glaciers impossible to disappear.

Travers witnessed the meltdown firsthand during reconnaissance trips before Victor's. A German glacier that had a lot of snow when it visited last year is now soft, he said.

"I was surprised," he said. "The difference over a year was amazing."

The disintegration of permafrost, which now glues the rocks of a glacier, can cause them to crumble with potentially devastating consequences.

Victor's flight comes as Italian authorities are struggling to respond to fears that part of a large Italian glacier near Mont Blanc is about to collapse. They warned that the ice fall could endanger homes and people in the Val Ferret area, a popular hiking area.

At the rate the planet is warming, it is too late to save the glaciers of the Alps, said Conservation Freedom's managing director Ronald Menzel. But it is not too late to tackle climate change more broadly. He hopes Victor's popularity will spur viewers into action.

"We hope that once again people will see nature from a totally different perspective, reconnect with it and realize that wow, this is really amazing and we want to do something to preserve it," he said.

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John Leicester reported from Hong Kong.

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For more Associated Press stories on climate change, visit https://www.apnews.com/Climate

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Eagle Wings on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EaglewingsF

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