The history of our relations with nature, the wonderful, unique phenomenon we call life is sometimes truly grieving. The Tasmanian wolf, the passer pigeon, and many others are now nothing but past memories for our activities, with many more like the Galapagos tortoises, those almost adorably clumsy large living boulders, balancing on the edge of extinction.
The fate of wyverns, these unique large flying reptiles with ancestry rooting deep in the age of dinosaurs, surviving the perils of the oncoming millions of years unharmed, is nothing different.
These mild, intelligent beings of the air were attributed by the most unusual and dubious traits in the medieval age like an unsatisfiable appetite for virgins, and fearsome abilities like fire breath. The noble, the knights were proving their worthiness by slaying these beasts, which beasts in reality had no worse sins than occasionally snatching livestock. The lasts of the cave wyverns probably died or were killed about a millenary ago, most of them likely bruminating defenselessly in their hideouts for cold northern winters.
Then followed the golden wyvern of the Mediterranean regions, whose slender body was plated with the most magnificent glimmering green-gold scales also displaying a prominent ornamental ridge, the probable inspiration of the dragons of Chinese folklore, to become history a mere century ago. The invention of gunpowder coupled with the age of explorations to spread the hunters lusting for their skin and trophies selling for a fortune called their demise. It couldn't save them that the United States, the first in 1843, recognized the need of their preservation, and vowed for it with many other countries following. Poaching continued and the already small, fractured populations were unable to support themselves. The last known captive specimen died in 1928 to leave us only with a handful of laboriously preserved dullen trophies to remind us our ignorance.
What remained is about four thousand of brass wyverns scattered around over the savannas and deserts of Africa and some regions of Asia. They might have been saved by that their skin is monotonous, rather dull and hard to preserve, so weren't exposed to that much hunting like the golds. Over the ages they learned to respect gunfire: today, they impose little threat on guarded livestock. Ironically, what haunts them most, even more than the loss of habitat since the past decades is that with the advent of globalization, the change of people's attitudes, they became too popular. Many would like to see one for real preferably in convenient driving distance, and with the discovery of their timid, almost submissive nature in captivity, many embarked on serving this need.
I am glad to have a good friend, Jake Murai, who eventually decided to settle in Yssla and joined the Brass Research and Conservation Fund. Yes, I admit I am also quite guilty of wanting to see one for real, however I hope that going right to the site, taking part in a volunteer program could justify this guilt.
Where I was heading is the Arnold Camp, a field operations camp of the Fund, on the shore of the river Yukos, but otherwise a hell long way from everything else. It is literally situated in the middle of nowhere by human perception, however in the middle of a rich fauna with large grazing herds for wyverns to prey upon. Thankfully a small plane makes that long way about twice a week.
It was after the rainy season, a perfect clean day to have a flight. I was used to flying, but never on such a rural service: it was all different, new, unique experience over a unique, gorgeous landscape with the peaks of the Central Rockies faintly visible on the horizon. I simply had to look, to see the land straining my eyes whether I could spot some of the ubiquitous wildlife of the savanna, a herd of gnus, zebras, giraffes or anything. To my dismay they didn't seem to think likewise about our passing plane.
We were maybe about a half hour from arriving. I only noticed a yellowish glimmer and suddenly it was all there. A huge, I mean, really huge brass gliding no more than about a hundred meters from us! I only came to the realization of where the heck I am going now and that such a flying mass of muscle could even crash us! Like it happened a few times, although always with commercial airliners with the brass just being the wrong place the wrong time. He however was serenely gliding, clearly aware of our existence. A few times he would cross to the other side under us, frighteningly close. I was sitting there too scared to even make a move. It was stupid, and no-one gave the slightest note on the situation. Wish there was anyone in my immediate reach, but no-one, and I was too embarrassed to do anything. Like what could I ask? A sailplane sized yellowish mass, on wyvern populated land, and sure, ask the pilot or anyone else whether he didn't notice it.
It was both majestic and utterly frightful. Thankfully as we started to descend towards the camp's small airport, he decided to leave us. For one part I really wished to meet him on the ground, for another, honestly, I really didn't. I couldn't make out however where he flew.
"Don't ever do that again!" It was Jake, at least in part. He told me that was just a local wyvern, healed by the Fund "some decades ago", then stayed and got this peculiar habit that once in a while, he would just fly together with the plane. Also noted he just wanted to allow me to indulge my first encounter in full. Well, that was definitely something to be indulged. But at least I was there, and got to see one of them even before actually starting!