Icon of Perseverance
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We should never have to lose a species if we have the means to protect it.
Eagles: Embodiment of Our Nation's Virtues
Inevitable, the North and South, or Twin, Towers collapse; the South taking only 10 seconds, killing 600 employees and first responders in the building and surrounding areas. Approximately half an hour after the collapse of the South Tower, the North Tower collapses at 10:28 AM, after burning for 102 minutes, killing approximately 1,400 people in the building and surrounding area. The attacks claimed approximately 3,000 people from 93 nations. 2.753 people were killed in New York, 184 people at the Pentagon, and 40 people on Flight 93, "... the single largest loss of life from a foreign attack on American soil," according to The National September 11 Memorial Museum, which will open May 21, 2014.
Undoubtedly, we all remember where we were the day our nation was changed forever. In a state of confusion, we became lost, looking for something to comfort us, allowing us to know we would become stronger; despite the devastation, our nation came together. First, we needed to heal. Perhaps that first step was when then-Mayor of New York City, Rudy Guiliani stood on the stage of Studio 8H, with two dozen firefighters and police officers who had not yet left Ground Zero, during the opening of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Guiliani comments Saturday Night Live as one of New York's greatest institutions, where "Having our city's institutions up and running send a message that New York City is open for business." SNL Producer, Lorne Michaels, joined Guiliani on stage, asking "Can we be funny?"
Guiliani bantered, "Why start now?" signaling, it was alright for us to laugh, to begin healing.
To Al Cecere, Founder and President of the American Eagle Foundation (AEF), a nonprofit devoted to Bald eagle and environmental recovery programs with aspiration to fully restore the Bald eagle, Challenger, "The Free-Flying National Anthem Eagle," was as inspiration to New York, helping to heal and give hope.
According to AEF, Challenger, named in honor of the crew of the space shuttle, is a non-releasable Bald eagle, cared for by AEF. In early 1989, Challenger, as a baby, was blown from his nest in the wild during a storm, and was then hand raised by people who found him. Challenger's experience with people had been imprinted on him at a young age, and consequently became "human socialized," where he cannot survive on his own in the wild. Challenger was released into the wild twice during the summer of 1989; after his second release, Challenger landed near a man in hopes of getting food (as the third time he sought food from people when he got hungry), where the man tried to beat him with a stick; another man rescued Challenger by stopping the stick-wielding man.
Challenger has been making education appearances across the nation since 1993, as the ambassador for the eagles; the Bald eagle is still classified as a "threatened" species throughout the lower 48 states. Challenger often free-flies into major league sports stadiums during the National Anthem. Cecere recalls, Challenger was requested to fly during the World Series, after 9/11. At that point in time, the nation had embraced their patriotism, in efforts to stand united after such a devastating event. With Challenger taking flight, everyone came together, as the American spirit filled each person. To Cecere, "Challenger flying over Yankee Stadium helped heal people, giving them hope for the future." Every home game at Yankee Stadium, which were televised, Challenger soared through the sky, as the entire nation felt pride of what America stood for.
Universally, the eagle is celebrated as our nation's symbol, chosen because of the eagle's virtue, bravery, and perseverance, traits we attribute to our country. To Cecere, eagles are a "very precious creation," considering the American eagle one of the most majestic eagles. What is interesting to Cecere is that eagles mate for life, where they will only choose another companion after his/her originally companion has died. The pair shares the duties of incubating the eggs, grooming the babies, getting food, as well as in restoring the nest (as they usually stay in the same nest), returning with additional sticks. The eagles epitomize the "modern day, traditional family."
In the wild, eagles exhibit similar behavior, where the personality of an individual eagle can vary depending on his/her environment. Cecere compares the captive birds used for education, where many of them are young, injured, and/or permanently disabled, and therefore, has had more interaction with humans. The eagles who have had more interaction with humans exhibit more distinctive personalities, in comparison to a wild, five-year-old eagle, with limited human interaction.
Preserving the eagles is imperative, not only because of Cecere's passion for eagles, but also in his belief that all wildlife is connected, as a part of a chain in the environment, and how devastating it would be if one species was lost. "We should never have to lose a species if we have the means to protect it." Education is key in preserving the eagles, as Cecere believes there is always an opportunity to educate the public, at some level. Challenger is often requested to fly during sports events in other cities as well, always conveying an environmental message, as the ambassador for his species, not only protecting the eagles, but also the environment. Challenger embraces every opportunity he has to raise awareness, such as through meet and greet events, even at the airport, interacting with the ground crew. As Cecere observes, everywhere Challenger goes, and his out of his carrier, there is always an awareness opportunity. Other awareness opportunities arise such as during sports events, where connections can be made to schools to educate children, or visiting Veterans at their homes, at no cost to them.
Environmental education is crucial in saving and protecting the eagles. Cecere has hopes of raising awareness to children from an early age to appreciate the environment, where that appreciation will translate into passion in protecting the environment as adults. As different generations have a different mindset in their attitudes, such as in the welfare of our environment, Cecere cites Marine Biologist and Conservationist, Rachel Carson's, Silent Spring, detailing the correlation of DDT and the softening of eagle eggs; it wasn't until people learned about DDT, before people realized the detriments of the pesticide, and began taking active steps to being saving the eagles. In educating children as young as possible, the importance of protecting the environment will be imprinted on them, as well as the "importance of protecting the other creatures we share the Earth with."
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), with the mission to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), created to protect human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on federal legislation, took a historic step in banning the use of DDT in the US in 1972, the "first step on the road to recovery for the bald eagle." Coupled with the banning of DDT, habitat protection by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), enacted in 1973, which places the responsibility upon the government to protect endangered species, threatened species, and critical habitats vital to the survival of these species, for nesting sites and viable feeding and roost sites, the Bald eagles were on their way to recovery.
The eagles were in danger of extinction due to habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of their food, hugely a consequence of DDT. Shortly after World War II, DDT was used to control mosquitoes and other insects, but its residues would wash into nearby waterways, and the aquatic plants and fish absorbed it. Consequently, Bald eagles were poisoned with DDT when they ate the contaminated fish, where the chemicals interfered with the production of strong eggshells. The thin-layered egg shells often broke during incubation, or otherwise failed to hatch. DDT also affected other species, including Peregrine falcons and Brown pelicans.
Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in August of 2007, as their populations recovered sufficiently; however, it appears the Bald eagles will again need the protection under the ESA. Although they were delisted from the endangered species list, the Bald eagles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act. The Bald and Golden Eagle Act was originally passed in 1940, which protects the Bald and Golden eagles, amended in 1962, to prohibit the "take [pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest, or disturb], possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg'"
As education is an essential step in saving and protecting the eagles, to Cecere, the most powerful way to educate people is in them seeing every step of each stage of the eagles' lives, through the AEF "Eagle Nest Cam" program, documenting important events during the life cycle of the eagles. Romeo and Juliet, wild Bald eagles living in Northeast Florida for the past seven years, are a favorite pair. Gretchen Butler, a volunteer for Audubon's "EagleWatch" Program, had been monitoring the pair for the past five years, collecting information and data with hopes of initiating the process of installing an eagle cam; AEF felt this would be a great investment, placing cameras on the nest and assigning volunteers to continue monitoring and documenting the pair. A myriad of people, including retired people, school classrooms, people in their offices, follow the eagles as much as they can, through the lens of two high-definition cameras, which stream images 24/7 (including audio), as one camera pans, tilts, and zooms, and the other gives a wide view of the nest and the nest tree canopy.
Cecere continues, during the first week of September, Romeo and Juliet return to the nest. As AEF accounts, the pair will begin the nesting cycle, which includes bonding, mating, nestorations, egg-laying, incubation, hatching, and the raising of their children until they are ready to flee the nest to begin their own lives. Cecere accounts, Juliet will lay eggs in November, and the eggs will hatch before Christmas; the eaglets will fly out of the nest around April. AEF continues, the parents will remain in the nest area for approximately 30-45 days after their eaglets have migrated; Romeo will travel north for cooler, less humid climates, then Juliet will leave a few days later. Romeo and Juliet will return the following breeding season to begin their family cycle once again. Cecere observes, the Eagle Nest Cam also allows AEF to learn more about the parents, how they will weather storms associated with the area, the lengths they take to protect their young, never giving up, despite any obstacles they may face, "seeing nature as it really is." Currently, there are over 1,200 wild eagle nests.
Independence and Franklin are another breeding pair, originally from Alaska; the two are permanently disabled, due to being shot in the wing, and were paired because they were originally from the same area; they now live in Eagle Mt. Sanctuary, the largest eagle aviary in the United States. The first eagle cam was placed on Independence and Franklin, where the camera became active again in March once they began their nesting; the eaglets will hatch in late April. Independence, on average, will lay three eggs each year. AEF accounts, the live nest cam showed captive audiences the live hatching and rearing of three Bald eaglets (the 25th, 26th, and 27th eaglets by Independence and Franklin).
From 2000 to the present, AEF has released 101 captive-hatched and/or orphaned Bald eaglets from the artificial nesting tower located on Dandridge Lake, Tennessee, where many of the young were captive-hatched by non-releasable, permanently disabled parent eagles (such as Independence and Franklin). Cecere continues, the eagles are removed six to eight weeks after they've been hatched and placed in a nest that overlooks the lake, with hopes of the eagles returning; the eagles are likely to return to the area where they first learned to fly. Often, after an eagle has found a companion, he/she will bring the other back to his/her "hometown," as Cecere fondly observes. The eagles will remember that area, build a nest, and lay their eggs. Currently, AEF has seven total breeding pairs, one of which includes a Golden eagle pair, as the others are Bald eagle pairs.
The Eagle Mt. Sanctuary has different compartments to house singles; when the eagles have paired, they will be moved into another compartment, such as breeding pair Volunteer and Hero. Another pair is Isaiah and Mrs. Jefferson, who unfortunately, have yielded infertile eggs. AEF monitors the health of the eggs, were wooden eggs will be placed where the eggs would be; the eggs are then checked to verify they are fertile. If the eggs are fertile, the eggs will be placed back into the nest for incubation; if not, the wooden eggs would remain. However, for "infertile" pairs, at times AEF will give the pair an egg from a fertile pair, to allow the infertile pair the opportunity to hatch and raise an eaglet. As AEF accounts, AEF has hatched and released 119 Bald eaglets from 1992 to 2012. Although the eagles living at the Eagle Mt. Sanctuary are permanently disabled, and unable to be released, it doesn't mean they cannot live a fulfilling life. Cecere fondly observes, despite the fact that both Independence and Franklin are permanently disabled, it has not prevented them from hatching and rearing a number of healthy eaglets.
Eagles embody perseverance, as illustrated by Osceola, "The Hang-Gliding Eagle." As AEF accounts, in 1983, two rabbit hunters stumbled across young Osceola on the ground, trying to get airborne; however, Osceola's left wing was dangled as he ran: Osceola had been injured, on the ground for approximately a week before he was found. Osceola was taken to the veterinarian, and despite a heavy regiment of antibiotics, Osceola's wing would not heal, became sick from all the toxins, and had a severely infected limb, which would be amputated to save Osceola's life.
John Stokes, a professional eagle caretaker and environmental educator with 37 years experience as a hang glider pilot, was saddened to learn Osceola would not be able to fly again; an epiphany came to him: constructing a harness for Osceola and take him flying. After several years and several harnesses, Osceola took flight with Stokes over Lookout Mountain Flight Park, as he turned his "head looking at the top of the mountain, the sky, the ground, the glider, and [Stokes]. About 100 feet below [them] was a pair of Red-tailed hawks' For thirteen years, [Osceola] could only look up at soaring hawks. Now, he was looking at the tops of their wings!" Osceola has made eight flights, totaling of two hours and ten minutes of air time. As Osceola had been able to regain some freedom to fly; as he watches gliders, he would often give Stokes a look, as if to signal, "What are we waiting for? Let's go back for another!"
Osceola's full story
To Cecere, there are many things we can do to help in the preservation of eagles. People can get involved by volunteering with local raptor groups, or joining nest watch programs in your local area. As AEF receives no government funding, it relies on generous donations, as AEF also offers grants to eagle preservation projects. Cecere also hopes for people to volunteer with AEF, perhaps by becoming a "chatter," someone who corresponds and answers questions from viewers of the nest cams, many of whom has learned about the eagles through monitoring the nest cams.
As Cecere observes, we all live in this ecosystem, where everything has a purpose, as it is imperative to maintain every "link in the chain in the place it needs to be." Losing just one species can irrevocably alter our environment and ecosystem. We should never get to the point where we lose a species, as wildlife is precious; once we lose a species, we will never get it back. To Cecere, "We share this Earth with other precious creatures, some inspire us, some feed us, some make our ecosystem work," with the hope that more people will realize how significant this perspective is. Cecere remains optimistic, noting that children are realizing this concept more and more, where it is "not just about us, it's about others we share space with." We aspire to continue sharing space with these precious, majestic eagles, spreading their wings, freely soaring through the expansive sky, as the icon of perseverance, the symbol of our perseverance.
"When it rains, all birds occupy shelter, but Eagles avoid rain by flying above the clouds... problem is common to all, but the attitude to solve the problem makes all the difference' "'Author Unknown
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Louisa Lew, Contributing Writer: Louisa Lew graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s Degree in the Liberal Arts, double majoring in Political Science and Film. She is currently a Freelance Copy Editor and Writer, living in Seattle with her two dogs. (more...)