RAVENMASTER’S COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
24.04.2019 Who am I? And what do I do?
-Who is Ravenmaster and what’s his job?
The current Ravenmaster at the Tower of London is Chris Skaife and holds the position of appointed Ravenmaster. He has been the Ravenmaster since 2011. He has the unique job of caring for the raven’s safety and welfare, but he is also a member of ‘The Body of Yeoman Warders’ known as a ‘Beefeater’. He is one of only 37 Yeoman Warders who live and work at the Tower. He has a team of three Ravenmaster assistants who assist him in his task of looking after the Ravens.
-You have been taking care of the Ravens in the Tower of London for almost twelve years, and, since 2011 as the Ravenmaster. How has your job been and your life with them? How and why did you become the Ravenmaster?
It’s been a real honor and privilege to care for these beautifully majestic and intelligent birds. The previous Ravenmaster thought I might have a talent for caring for the birds and so instructed me on their welfare. I do say that the ravens picked me!
-The legend says that there has always to be six ravens at the Tower of London. If they leave, the kingdom and the Tower will fall. They are a part of the legend of the Tower of London and British folklore. How do you face this responsibility?
As you said, the legend has it that if the ravens were ever to leave the Tower of London, the Tower of London would crumble and the kingdom would suffer a terrible fate, so it is a responsibility I take very seriously.
-You feed them, take them inside and out from their cages, you clean their cages, among other responsibilities. Which part of the day with them is the most gratifying?
I get to spend a lot of time with the ravens, I enjoy the mornings when I first let them out of their night time enclosures as it’s a time I get them all to myself. Each raven has its own personality and during the daytime I get to watch them going about their daily business. In the evening, they respond to my calling them to bed after a hard day’s work for them looking good and been photographed.
-We know it takes the Ravens a little time to get adapted to their caregivers and watchers. How are they taught? Do they become dependent?
I don’t teach the ravens to get to know me, I let the ravens decide as to whether they want to get to know me or not. It takes a lot of patience and dedication to get a raven to trust you, but once you have it, you will have it for life.
Ravens are neo-phobic so any change unsettles them a little and it takes a few days for them to become adjusted again. I keep the ravens as wild as possible so they keep their distance from visitors and staff.
-How is living with an animal associated with death by a lot of people?
Within some cultures ravens are seen as omens of pending doom, while in other cultures they are seen as powerful spirit guides and good omens. Here at the Tower the ravens bring luck to the Kingdom by their continued presence.
-We believe that ravens are fascinating animals. Do you think that there’s still much left to discover from them?
The more we study them the more we understand the raven’s abilities, such as their intelligence. There are some studies demonstrating their ability to complete two part puzzles making them the smartest birds known to man. It will be interesting to see the full extent of what they are capable of in years to come! I’m currently working with Queen Mary University helping their students to study cognitive behaviour in our birds.
-From the ravens that live there, is there anyone more rebellious or friendlier with the people and tourists? Even with you? How is their daily life? Could you tell us their names and ages?
Details of the ravens, their place of birth and year of birth below:
Erin (female, Somerset, 2006)
Merlina (female, South Wales, 2005)
Rocky (male, Somerset, 2008)
Jubilee (male, Somerset, 2013)
Gripp (male, Somerset, 2013)
Harris (male, Somerset, 2016)
Poppy (female, Sussex, 2018)
George (female, Tower of London, 2019)
Merlin is the friendliest raven who has a special connection with me, but is still not tame.
-We have read studies and reports about the great intelligence of the ravens, their way of imitating sounds (they almost seem to speak), how they respect the elders. What would you remark about them?
There was a raven that lived at the Tower call Thor that could say ‘good morning’. I do not encourage the ravens to mimic humans as a raven’s vocabulary is wide ranging and much more interesting that what we have to say.
Ravens are great at mimicking sounds picked up in there environment and there are many clips on YouTube where ravens can be seen making odd sounds and mimicking humans.
-If any raven escapes, what is done to recover it? Do they carry any tracking device? Or new ravens are taken?
I use various methods to keep the ravens at the Tower, food, shelter security and raven husbandry, on occasions, dependent on the weight and size of the raven I gently trim a secondary flight feather. This process does not hurt them, but unbalances their flight slightly so while they can safely fly around the Tower but cannot fly long distances away from their home.
There has been the occasional raven escape. Munin escaped for seven days until caught by a vigilant member of the public in Greenwich Park. She was returned to the Tower and is still with us at the ripe old age of 22!
Grog was last seen outside an East End pub called the Rose and Punchbowl in 1981.
A raven escape is luckily very rare and we always keep at least one raven spare – just in case!
-How do people react watching you so close to the ravens? And how do the animals react to people?
I never encourage the public to get close to any of our ravens… enjoy them from a distance, as raven’s and selfies don’t mix! They are wild and bite really hard! I have gained Merlina’s trust over the last 10 years and she sees me as one of her own. The public are amazed at my interactions with her and generally respect the ravens space. But get too close and she will let you know!
-Are the ravens able to distinguish you from your three helpers? Do they interact in a different way with you and with them?
Yes definitely, although some of my assistants have also gained her trust over the years and can interact with her as well.
-For all the readers of this interview, would you like to tell them something to animate them to visit the tower and their ravens when they visit London?
Apart from the fabulous history that the Tower of London represents in British history we have the best storytellers and curators to pass on the any wonderful and sometimes grisly stories that are told. The ravens have their own myth and legends attached to the Tower represent our gruesome past in vivid detail, besides that they are truly magnificent to see close-up. A must for any raven fan!