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The Eagle Flies

Article and Photos by Kathleen Walls

Freedom the eagle mascot
Freedom flies across the Georgia Southern University stadium


Steve Hein with Freedom
Steve Hein with Freedom
It all began in 1992 when Georgia Southern University in Statesboro Georgia went in search of a eagle for a mascot. Steve Hein, Director of the university's Wildlife Center, stated "When we decided to get an eagle and not just display it but wrap it in education, I don't think anybody had any notion of what was to follow."

What followed by 1997 was the Wildlife Education Center and the Lamar Q Ball, Jr. Raptor Center. Georgia Southern acquired Freedom, their mascot, and he now lives at the Center.

As is always the case, acquiring Freedom was not a quick or easy task. Freedom is a male Southern Bald Eagle who was born in a next in Maitland Florida. He fell from his nest when he was just a few weeks old. By the time he was found he was suffering from an infection and had a misshapen beak, probably caused by the fall. He was just a little ball of fluffy feathers and it was unsure if he would survive.

Rescuers brought him to the Audubon Center for  Birds of Prey in Maitland.  There he was nursed carefully. He did recover from the infection but the beak injury was irreversible so he could not be released back into the wild. Finally in 2004, Georgia Southern University received permission to acquired this young eagle  which they named Freedom. 

owl Red tailed hawk
How's this for up close and personal with an owl? A caretaker displays a red tailed hawk

I visited this 17 acres of diverse habitats and species that includes an amphitheater and an indoor classroom that comprise the Wildlife Education Center.

Along with meeting Freedom up close, I witnessed flyovers by other native and exotic bird species and then Steve asked  for two volunteers to hold another  wildlife species. On finding out that the creature she would handle was a Madagascar Cockroach, the female volunteer relinquished the field to fearless Doc. Lawrence, the male volunteer. Can't say I blame her.

I was one of the next set of four volunteers, all female this time. Our project was to hold a huge Burmese python named Monty. I want to report that all of us served bravely. He is a magnificent specimen and feeling his muscles ripple as he moved in our hands was a thrill.

Doc Lawrence and that roach Holding on to that python

Along with Freedom, Monte, and that cockroach, the Wildlife Education Center is home to many other species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and a few mamals.

This spectacular natural environment provides much more than an entertaining days at the zoo. It is a classroom in the wild, a safe habitat for wildlife and a learning experience for preschoolers through adults. To bring its environmental conservation message to folks outside of Statesboro, the Center goes on the road with a sampling of its wildlife.

So go fly–drive, hike, bike or however you choose– to Georgia Southern University and its Wildlife Education Center.

For more info: http://academics.georgiasouthern.edu/wildlife/

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