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Former Malibu resident seeks justice for albino raven

Former Malibu resident Madena Bennett holds Pearl, an albino raven who was shot and killed on May 13 in Thousand Oaks. Photos Submitted
Chris Bashaw, Assistant Editor
11:26 am PDT May 27, 2015

A former Malibu resident is crowd sourcing funds for a monetary award she hopes will lead to the prosecution of the person who shot and killed an albino raven.
Madena Bennett, who now lives in Thousand Oaks, discovered on May 13 a rare albino raven she cared for escaped from its cage and was shot to death in a Thousand Oaks neighborhood near the intersection of Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Hampshire Road.
“People don’t know it’s a federal offense to shoot a bird,” Bennett said, adding she believed Pearl – the name she picked for the raven – was killed by a pellet gun. “Unfortunately, Fish and Wildlife don’t have the time and resources to chase people who do this. They usually get them for setting off a firearm in city limits, which is usually the fastest and easiest way to prosecute them for something.”
Just a week after Pearl’s death, Bennett was $120 toward her goal of raising $10,000 for a reward for information she hopes will bring Pearl’s killer to justice.
“It’s also just important for us to work that neighborhood and have people who live there understand that it’s illegal to do something like this,” she said.
Last year, Pearl passed through the hands of an animal control office in Los Angeles to the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas, where Bennett was a volunteer supervisor and used Pearl as an educational outreach animal.
But even as a fledgling, it was apparent Pearl was special.
“There are — now, were — only four albino ravens known in the world,” Bennett said. “They’ll pop up here and there, but they’re generally taken out before they reach adulthood.”
Albinism puts ravens at a severe disadvantage in the wild, which is why nearly all are thought to be killed off by predators before adulthood, Bennett said.
Like other albino ravens, Pearl couldn’t fly far or for long because her albinism meant her feathers lacked not only the pigment that melanin provides, but also its strength. Her brittle feathers also lacked an oil-like substance that makes most birds’ feathers water-resistant, meaning Pearl would be nearly incapable of flying if she became wet.
What’s more, Pearl would have stood out in her flock. As social animals, her fellow ravens might have ostracized her, but she would have also stood out to predators.
“She almost glowed at night,” Bennett said. “That whiteness makes them very highly [hunted] on by owls.”
That was Bennett’s fear when Pearl escaped for the first time.
“She had escaped briefly when she was a baby, flying after me after out to my car, I didn’t shut the door because I didn’t think she’d ever do that because she was afraid of the outside,” Bennett said. “She got caught up in the wind, and after that I trained her really well on recall. She could come right back to me and didn’t like being outside anymore because it was scary to her.”
But it was the second time, just before May 13, when Bennett’s worst fears for Pearl came to pass.
Bennett said she was in Pearl’s cage, getting ready to take her to an educational program. Bennett was in a hurry that day, and said she fed Pearl a little later than usual.
“She knew we were off of our normal schedule, so she was a little hissy with me,” Bennett said.
When outside, Pearl began hitting and gnawing at Bennett’s hand, which held Pearl’s jess – a tool that’s more or less a leash for a bird.
Pearl managed to get Bennett to release her grip on the jess, allowing the raven to fly 20 feet from her handler.
It was at that distance Pearl began to turn around and head back toward Bennett, who was calling after her, when a murder of crows mobbed Pearl and forced her farther away from Bennett.
“I called to her, but they herded her as fast as they could down the street and I started chasing after them, calling to her while she kept trying to come back to me,” Bennett said.
Although Bennett didn’t know it yet, watching the crows swarm Pearl further away from home would be the last time she saw Pearl alive; that night, and for the following day beginning in the early morning, Bennett slowly drove her car alongside the trees, calling Pearl’s name and hoping to catch a glimpse of her white glow in the moonlight.
“We also made several hundred signs,” Bennett said.
Malibu resident and a friend of Bennett’s Diana Mullen, however, would be the one to discover Pearl’s fate.
“She [Mullen] said she was putting up a poster in the Agoura Hills Animals Shelter when a man overheard her talking to a receptionist about Pearl,” Bennett said.
The man told Mullen he knew of the white raven, but that she had been shot by 3:30 p.m.
“That means Pearl was gone not more than two and a half hours before she was shot, Bennett said. “That’s how fast it was.”
Bennett said Pearl, still alive after being shot, was recovered by the Conejo Valley Animal Hospital, but died on her way to the vet.
“From my understanding of the way the damage is, it went through her wing and through her back, meaning she must have been perched when she was shot,” Bennett said. “She didn’t bleed a lot, but I don’t think she lived for very long.”
Beyond her albinism, however, Bennett said Pearl was an exceptional animal with a personality to match.
The raven often became bored if left to her own devices for too long, and would learn to bite Bennett at the proper pressures on different parts of her body to get the attention she wanted.
Pearl could even speak, saying the word “wow” in nearly 50 different voices she put away in her head as people met her.
“In the morning, there would be this litany of ‘wow,’” Bennett said. “Everyone who saw Pearl would just say ‘wow,’ so that became Pearl’s first word.”
She also knew the phrases, “I love you,” “oh my God” and “what a disaster,” and even understood the concept of a laser pointer after less than a minute of chasing the red speck of light across a bed – a feat not many dogs or cats achieve.
“All of these stories can keep going on,” Bennett said. “She was so amazingly sweet and would win anybody over.”
For more information about Pearl, visit