Wildlife Center Announces That "Buddy" Will Be Permanent Resident

The Wildlife Center of Virginia, the nation’s leading teaching and research hospital for wild animals, today announced that the Norfolk Botanical Garden Bald Eagle – admitted to the Center as a patient in May 2008 and an international “celebrity” – will become a permanent resident at the Center.             The Bald Eagle will become a member of the Center’s corps of non-releasable education animals, which includes hawks, owls, snakes, turtles, and opossums.  In additional to being seen by visitors to the Wildlife Center, many of these animals travel with Center staff and take part in environmental education programs in elementary school classrooms and auditoriums and at libraries, county fairs, and other venues.  The announcement comes on the eagle’s second birthday – the eagle hatched from his egg in a nest at the Norfolk Botanical Garden on April 27, 2008.  The Center only gives names to those animals that are permanent residents.  To date, the eagle has been known at the Center as #08-0887, his patient number [animals admitted to the Center are given sequential patient numbers; this Bald Eagle was the 887th patient admitted to the Center during 2008].  However, to members of the Norfolk Eagles Support Team International [the informal legion of fans of the Bald Eagle family that nests at the Norfolk Botanical Garden who have followed the drama of this young eagle], he has been known as “Buddy”.  [Through a web-cam operated by the Norfolk Botanical Garden, WVEC-TV, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, thousands of individuals across the nation and around the world have followed this eagle family.]  As an acknowledgement of the support the NESTI group has provided to help care for this bird, the Wildlife Center has decided to make “Buddy” the bird’s official name. With this decision, the Center is planning a new, permanent enclosure at the Center for Buddy, which may eventually include a web-cam – “Buddy-cam” – better opportunities for public visitation, and appropriate room for the bird [who is fully flighted] to exercise.  Buddy is currently housed between two Wildlife Center “veterans” – Junior, a Golden Eagle who has been at the Center since 1985, and Scarlette, a Red-tailed Hawk brought to the Center as a patient in 1989.  Buddy could become an institution at the Wildlife Center for many years to come.  Skyler, the Wildlife Center’s first Bald Eagle ambassador, died in 2006 at the age of 25.  During his long career as the poster-child for conservation and environmental protection, Skyler and his handler Ed Clark, President and Co-Founder of the Wildlife Center, traveled more than 100,000 miles, from rural schools and backwoods summer camps for children to the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and the Pentagon.  Skyler and Clark were featured guests at the 20th anniversary celebration of Earth Day on the Mall in Washington, D.C., appeared multiple times on Larry King Live, NBC’s Today, and C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, and even spooked Socks the Cat at a White House Easter Egg Roll during the Clinton Administration. “It remains to be seen if Buddy has the temperament necessary to make it ‘on the road,’” Clark observed. “He has already proven to be a great ambassador for wildlife and has helped thousands of individuals gain a new appreciation for Bald Eagles and the work of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.”  Members of the Center’s rehabilitation staff started training Buddy in February 2010.  The goal is to train the bird to sit calmly on a handler’s gloved hand, so that Buddy can be taken to programs and presentations off-site.  The training process often takes many months of hard work – for both the eagle and the handlers.  A Brief Buddy Chronology April 27, 2008.  The Bald Eagle hatched at the Norfolk Botanic Garden.  He became an instant, and worldwide, celebrity to individuals who had been following the nest through EagleCam [a web-based camera].  These sharp-eyed EagleCam watchers soon noticed a mysterious and fast-growing lump on the side of the bird’s beak. May 22, 2008.  The eagle was taken from his nest by the state wildlife veterinarian and brought to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro.  Subsequent testing found that the cause of the growth on the eagle’s beak was Avian Pox.  There is no “cure” for Avian Pox; Center veterinarians began supportive care and stimulation of the bird’s immune system, including treatment with interferon.  The bird also was treated with antibiotics and anti-fungal medications to prevent secondary infections. July 9, 2008.  Throughout June, the Center veterinary and rehabilitation staff noticed a gradual but sustained shrinkage of the Avian Pox lesion on the side of the eagle’s beak.  On July 9, staff found that the remainder of the lesion had fallen off. July 12, 2008.  The Center’s veterinary team operated on the eagle – to clean out the remnants of the pox lesion and to repair damage to bone and beak tissue.  To assist, the Center brought in Dr. R. Avery Bennett, Professor of Veterinary Clinical Medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and known internationally for his surgical skills in complicated cases.  July 15, 2008.  Since admission, the eagle had been housed inside the Center’s clinic, principally in the isolation unit [to prevent spread of Avian Pox to other bird patients].  On July 15, the eagle was moved to one of the Center’s outdoor pens.   August 1, 2008.  Because of damage caused by the Avian Pox lesion to the growth plates of the eagle’s beak, the beak grows out unevenly, producing a crossed bill.  On August 1, the eagle was brought back into the clinic for the first in a series of beak trims, establishing a treatment procedure that will continue regularly as the beak continues its growth pattern.  August 2008 – August 2009.  The eagle continued to be housed in one of the Center’s outdoor pens, including significant periods in the largest, 100-foot flight pen.  Center rehabilitation staff monitored the bird’s status daily; Center veterinarians completed a formal evaluation every week.  Every two to three weeks, on an as-needed basis, the bird’s beak was trimmed.  August 24, 2009.  Center President Clark announced that #08-0887 had been declared a non-releasable bird.  That decision was “[b]ased on a review of the bird’s treatment over the past 15 month, evaluation of the curvature of the eagle’s beak, and the habituation of this young bird to humans.”  Clark cited a formal evaluation of #08-0887 prepared by Dr. Dave McRuer, Center Director of Veterinary Services, that noted that the eagle’s beak “has not straightened as we would have hoped.  At this point, it appears that, despite our best attempts, the germinal cells of the left side of the upper beak have been permanently altered. … It is our professional opinion that, due to these apparently permanent changes to the beak, lifelong management will be necessary in order for this eagle to thrive.  If the bird were to be released, the beak would continue to grow until he could no longer open or close the mouth.  This undoubtedly would result in the eagle’s eventual starvation and death.”  With that announcement, the Center began a process to determine, in Clark’s words, “the best placement for this young eagle” – recognizing that he will continue to need frequent beak trims and appropriate housing.  During this exploratory period, the eagle was housed in a large outdoor pen adjacent to some of the Center’s education animals, providing Center staff the opportunity to assess the bird’s reaction to interactions with the public [e.g., school groups, open-house tours, etc.] February 2010.  Center rehabilitation staff, under the leadership of Wildlife Rehabilitator Suzy Doell, began a more intensive program of training the bird.  This training is expected to take some months.  April 27, 2010.  The Center announced that the eagle would be a permanent resident of the Center, and that he would be known as “Buddy”.  Wildlife Center of Virginia  Every year, about 2,500 animals – ranging from Bald Eagles, bobcats, and bears to turtles, opossums and chipmunks – are brought to the Wildlife Center for care.  Since its founding in 1982, the nonprofit Center has cared for more than 54,000 wild animals, representing 200 species of native birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.  The Center’s public education programs share insights gained through the care of injured and orphaned wildlife, in hopes of reducing human damage to wildlife.  The Center trains veterinary and conservation professionals from all over the world and is actively involved in comprehensive wildlife health studies and the surveillance of emerging diseases.  In 2007, the Wildlife Center of Virginia was named the Conservation Organization of Year for the entire U.S.