Dubai: From the lofty pole antenna of the Burj Khalifa, Darshan disembarked at the clapping signal of its trainer on the ground below. People had teemed in front of the screens situated near the Dubai Mall Fountain to watch the bird of prey broadcast its eagle-eye view live and set a new world record.
“Darshan is a male Imperial Eagle with a wing span of two metres,” Darshan’s trainer and founder of Freedom Conservation, Jazques-Olivier Travers, said. “He is a very powerful bird, which is necessary as he is donning a 300g camera on his back.”
Darshan’s flight from the top of the 829.8m Burj Khalifa set the world record of the highest recorded bird flight from a man-made structure. It was an attempt by Freedom Conservation to raise awareness on the plight of endangered birds of prey, many of which are recorded on the IUCN Red List of Endangered species. The initiative’s primary goal is the protection of endangered birds of prey and reintroduce them into their natural habitat.
“It was a real challenge to get to the top of the Burj,” Travers said. “For a human it isn’t that difficult but getting a big bird in a cage to that point is another story. It takes about two hours to get Darshan up there.”
Dubbed as ‘The Man who teaches Eagles to fly’, Travers also develops camera technology.
“The camera we strapped on Darshan is a Sony ActionCam Mini, which is the world’s smallest action camera. It streams its bird’s eye perspective of Dubai live and makes the world feel like it was riding on the eagle’s back. It truly was a very special event.”
Freedom Conservation’s eagles have flown from iconic landmarks across Europe, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris and St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
“Darshan was also the eagle who flew at our London event,” Travers said, “but both those other projects were from altitudes of around 300m. The flight from Burj Khalifa was a totally different ambition.”
Travers said that the Freedom Conservation initiative had already reintroduced White-Tail Eagles, which are the largest eagles in Europe, into the wild. The reintroduction of Imperial Eagles, like Darshan, marks the group’s second project. Travers estimates it will take about two years for them to reintroduce the species into their natural habitats.
Noora Al Mansouri, senior manager of strategic communications at the government of Dubai Media Office, said the Freedom Conservation group have been training for the attempt for more than a month.
“It was a real honour for us that the group chose to have their third flight in Dubai,” she said. “Birds of prey are rooted in the heritage of the UAE and it was necessary to highlight the endangered status of these birds. The group have been training for this event for almost 40 days, helping Darshan and another eagle adapt to the local weather conditions. They wanted to make sure everything was just right.”