Conservationist and adventurer Sacha Dench is also known as the swan woman. This month she embarked on a 10-week journey in a motorized paraglider, joining Bewick's swans on a 4,350-mile migration from the Arctic to the United Kingdom, reports EcoWatch.
Dench is risking her neck to save these endangered birds.
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In the past two decades, Bewick's swan populations have been cut in half, according to the UK conservation charity Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. Researchers know the birds are sometimes hunted illegally and they do hit power lines, but the exact cause of the decline remains unknown. Dench is on a mission to uncover clues.
"We're doing all we can as conservationists to get to the bottom of this problem, but it's not happening fast enough for the swans," Dench, an experienced paraglider who is also WWT's head of media, said in a statement. "It's time to get on the road and in the air to see the places and meet the people that might hold the key to this mystery."
For Dench and her team, that meant organizing the Flight of the Swans expedition. Besides raising attention to the birds' plight during much-needed refueling stops, the team hopes to talk with people on the ground and get a close-up look at the challenges facing the swans. After months of preparation, Dench took off from the Pechora Delta on September 19 with a support group on the ground. She just finished crossing the desolate tundra alongside Russian long-distance paramotorist Alexander Bogdanov.
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Motorized paragliding is no breeze. As EcoWatch's Dan Zukowski pointed out, the activity caused at least 23 fatal accidents in the United States in a 17-year span. Dench has eight years of experience in the air, and her setup for the expedition includes GPS tracking, communication with the team and a locator beacon just in case. Good thing, too, because a recent engine failure prompted a helicopter rescue and help from local reindeer herders to get to safety.
Undaunted, she's heading to the dense taiga forest next. She and her crew have also been joined by tagged swans. The wild endeavor has received support from familiar names, including Dench's distant relative Dame Judi, Sir David Attenborough, and Ralph Fiennes, EcoWatch reported. Dench expects to arrive at the WWT's wetland center in Slimbridge with the swans by late October.