Changing Planet

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Oshkosh

This year, LightHawk Volunteer Pilot Michael Baum of Los Altos, CA made an interesting stop on his way to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI. The self-described aviation enthusiast made a special detour to Centennial, Colorado (KAPA) to begin a flight mission donated for LightHawk. Baum touched down on his way to AirVenture, the renowned airshow billed as the largest in the world, in order to load an endangered black-footed ferret from US Fish and Wildlife Service Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center into his TBM 700 airplane bound for Oshkosh, WI.

LightHawk Volunteer Pilot Michael Baum arrives at EAA AirVenture after helping an endangered black-footed ferret. image: Bedinger/LightHawk
LightHawk Volunteer Pilot Michael Baum arrives at EAA AirVenture after helping an endangered black-footed ferret. image: Bedinger/LightHawk

Baum has volunteered with LightHawk for close to eight years often donating wildlife survival flights such as this one. LightHawk provides volunteer opportunities for pilots which benefit communities and wildlife by accelerating conservation success through the powerful perspective of flight. Baum flew his wild passenger to the North Eastern Wisconsin (NEW) Zoo near Green Bay, WI.

The black-footed ferret is considered a flagship species for the North American prairie. image: NEW Zoo
The black-footed ferret is considered a flagship species for the North American prairie. image: NEW Zoo

“Transport by commercial airline is very stressful for wild animals,” explains Carmen Murach, curator of animals for the NEW Zoo. “Airlines require that the animals arrive well in advance of their flights. They often spend significant amounts of time in non-temperature controlled, noisy cargo areas. There is just no way to explain to the animals that they are not in danger during this ordeal. The black-footed ferrets transported by Michael Baum are spared frightening noises and uncomfortable conditions.”

LightHawk works with the US Fish and Wildlife Service Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center to increase the efficiency of their work. LightHawk Flight Coordinator Yendra Tencza was also a passenger on Baum’s flight to Oshkosh. image: Bedinger/LightHawk

Black-footed ferrets travel in small plastic dog crates. Baum was not responsible for in-flight snacks.

Just as this was not Baum’s first trip to EAA AirVenture, this wasn’t the first time he’d flown black-footed ferrets. In February 2012, Baum was joined by his teenage daughter when he embarked on a flight to move endangered animals to a new home. (Read more about this flight here.) He also piggybacked on his Oshkosh journey in 2013 to bring a pair of ferrets to the NEW Zoo.

Michael and Kimberly Baum during their 2012 wildlife survival flight for US Fish and Wildlife Service Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center. image: LightHawk
Michael and Kimberly Baum during their 2012 wildlife survival flight for US Fish and Wildlife Service Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center. image: LightHawk

“Knowing there is often no viable alternative to a donated LightHawk flight to transport these endangered animals is very gratifying to me,” remarked Baum after the flight. It underscores that pilots who volunteer with LightHawk are truly making a difference.”

Bringing the black-footed ferret population back from a startling low of 18 individuals to a more sustainable number is not just good for the ferrets, it’s inextricably tied to restoring the American Prairie. The black-footed ferret is considered a flagship species for the North American prairie. By helping these animals, a beneficial ripple extends to over 130 unique plants and animals, a lasting legacy for future generations.

After spending a year and four days in the extreme cold and white of Antarctica, I came back to the world a changed person. My passion is to share stories of people doing extraordinary things and I've done that since 2008 as the chief storyteller for LightHawk. LightHawk is a unique non-profit that grants flights to conservation groups through a network of volunteer pilots. Nearly everyday LightHawk donates educational, scientific and photography flights covering the U.S., Mexico, Central America and parts of Canada. LightHawk volunteer pilots, aircraft and resources help to tip the balance toward sustainability for every major environmental issue within our targeted areas of focus. My favorite part of flying at 1,000 feet in a small aircraft is seeing how that perspective changes how people see their communities and empowers them to take positive action on behalf of conservation. Taking off is pretty cool too.

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