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Golden Eagle Release
by Damian Fagan

There is an old fable concerning a young girl walking along a storm-strewn beach throwing stranded sea stars back into the ocean. Informed of the futility of her actions, she tosses another star into the ocean and proclaims, “Not for that one.”

This attitude may also be the mantra of the modern day wildlife rehabilitator. Injuries, disease, malnutrition, poisoning, and shootings are just some of the problems that wildlife, especially birds of prey, have to contend with every day. Though some injuries may not be so great unto themselves, they can limit a bird’s ability to forage, care for or protect itself. In a weakened condition, the likelihood of survival is minimal. If the animal is lucky, it will be transported to a nearby wildlife rehabilitation center.

And though death is a part of the natural cycle, we humans take exception to just standing on the sidelines and doing nothing. Our interventions are borne from a desire to care for all things wild, even when the odds against survival suggest a withdrawal.

Well, such was the fate of a golden eagle, found in the Cisco Desert last fall. Unable to fly, suffering a leg/foot injury, and dying of malnutrition, this golden eagle was captured and taken to the Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation center in Price, Utah.

Petrie, as this golden was nicknamed, was covered with lice and in poor shape. After an examination, his leg and foot injury revealed swelling but no broken bones. Debbie Pappas, the licensed rehabilitator who owns the center, treated his injury with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Fed a regular diet, Petrie’s health improved, and after 3 ½ months of recuperation, he was ready to return to the wild.
Though Petrie came from the Cisco Desert, and often rehabilitated birds are returned to their found locations, the decision to release Petrie in Moab was a good one. Though he would be released in a different territory than the Cisco Desert, the Moab release would be close enough, and one that could be witnessed by the public.

Pappus contacted the owners of the Sunset Grill in Moab. This restaurant, which was once the home of Charlie Steen, is perched high on the east bench of Moab. The owners were delighted to host Petrie’s release.

On a wintry December day, over fifty people were in attendance at the release. With a chorus of “oohs” and “ahs”, Petrie was given a gentle toss into the winds of freedom. He flew but a short distance and perched atop a rocky outcrop. Perhaps he landed to get stock of his new situation or to shake off the touch of humans, no matter how loving their hands were. Taking a moment to assess his situation, Petrie looked out over the valley and thought the thoughts that only a wild golden eagle could understand.

Though this release ended in success, accidental or deliberate golden eagle fatalities far outweigh these rehabilitations. Poisoning, shooting, electrocutions, collisions with vehicles, and disease are factors that contribute to many eagle deaths. Natural mortality occurs, as birds succumb to old age, malnutrition and injuries, but it is the human-induced ones that are the hardest to accept.

Fortunately, there are rehabilitators like Debbie Pappus who spend their time and finances helping injured wildlife return to health. Their rewards are through seeing their patients taking that first step or flight to a second chance at life.

And as Petrie took his leave of the gathered crowd it would have been fitting for someone to say, “Not for that one.”
Thanks to Janine Pyrek for her image of Petrie. Contributions for or inquiries of the Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation may be directed to Debbie Pappas at 435-637-7055.

Golden Eagle release
Golden Eagle (Janine Pyrek photo)

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