Bald Eagle Challenger to Support Wildlife at U. S. Capitol
Educational ambassador inspires the heart & spirit of America
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 23, 2003
Washington, D.C. – When the subject of federal grants for State wildlife programs comes up in the new United States Congress, there will be a very visible and effective lobbyist from Tennessee on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building. His name is Challenger, and he’s an American Bald Eagle cared for by the non-profit American Eagle Foundation, headquartered at Dolly Parton’s Dollywood entertainment park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
The special bird is no stranger to Washington and is a majestic educational ambassador for his threatened species in the wild. The eagle visited the nation’s Capitol on June 23 and 24, 2003 and met with numerous Senators and Congressmen about wildlife protection and funding concerns.
“Challenger has flown twice from the United State Capitol Building to support wildlife issues and has already met many members of Congress there too,” said Al Cecere, president of the American Eagle Foundation. “He has been a tremendous asset drawing attention to the need for more federal funding for State non-game wildlife programs.”
Challenger has an interesting story. He was blown from a nest in the wild as a baby during a storm more than a dozen years ago and was hand-raised by the people who found him. As a result of his extensive contact with humans at a young age, the bird thinks that he is a person and cannot survive in the wild.
“He was released into nature twice and it almost cost him his life,” said Cecere. “He landed near a man to beg for food. That frightened person almost beat him to death with a stick before another man intervened and came to his rescue. It was the third time the bird had sought out people when he was hungry, so he was placed under the care of the American Eagle Foundation and named Challenger in honor of the space shuttle crew.”
Challenger has since become a key advocate for restoring and protecting wildlife nationally. He is the first Bald Eagle in U. S. history trained to make free flying appearances at high-profile public events. He has appeared on many news and talk shows, including Good Morning America, Regis & Kelly, CBS Morning, Maury Povich, Dateline NBC, and Late Night with David Letterman. He has flown at many sporting events, such as the World Series, Pro-Bowl All-Star game, and Fiesta Bowl. His majestic and inspiring flights have also been featured at the Para-Olympic Games opening ceremony at Olympic Stadium in Atlanta, the grand opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, ground-breaking ceremonies of the World War II Memorial, White House, Pentagon and United States Capitol Building.
“Tennessee Senator Bill Frist has met Challenger and seen him fly several times,” Cecere says, “His office staff has been instrumental in getting the security and other special permission we need when the American Eagle Foundation takes Challenger to the Capitol Building in Washington.”
“Senator Frist has also been a supporter of the State Wildlife Grants program,” says Naomi Edelsen of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, ” Challenger has been a key asset in securing the interest of Congress for these important grants. The money spent for this program, which benefits all of the States, is actually a savings for the nation because the programs are aimed at preventing species from becoming endangered or extinct. Once a species becomes endangered, it is much more costly to mount a restoration effort, and there are currently more than a thousand endangered plants and animals nationwide. The old adage, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ certainly applies here.”
From a strictly wildlife point of view, there is no more vital issue facing the United States Congress than the continuation of the State Wildlife Grants program, which brought $50 million dollars in badly needed funding for the States in 2001, $85 million in 2002, and $65 million in 2003.
Congress is now in the midst of the FYO4 budget cycle. The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee just voted last week to give $75 million to State Wildlife Grants, but State wildlife agencies are asking for $125 million.
In Tennessee, this federal money has been used for a variety of programs from wildlife observation facilities such as the one at the new Yuchi Wildlife Management Area to the Tennessee Amphibian Monitoring Program, for the Duck River Columbia Riverwalk and the Hatchie River Interpretive Center, the Freshwater Mussel Propagation Laboratory and the Upper Tennessee River System Lake Sturgeon Restoration Program.
In a time of increased federal concern over homeland and national security, State wildlife grants may seem relatively unimportant. However, with Challenger again traveling to Washington, there will be a powerful and soul-stirring reminder to Congressmen and Senators about the critical and important role our wildlife and natural resources play in the grand scheme of things, including our domestic tranquility and health and welfare.
“At each place we go, as Challenger takes wing, you can feel the spirit of pride and patriotism swell up in everyone who sees him,” said Cecere. “After all, he is the living symbol of what freedom and democracy in America are all about, and why we are helping to free people from oppression around the world.”
Founded in 1985, the non-profit American Eagle Foundation, headquartered at Dolly Parton’s Dollywood entertainment park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, has become a non-governmental leader in eagle conservation over the past seventeen years. Since 1991, it has traveled coast-to-coast conducting numerous public education programs with trained non-releasable eagles and other birds of prey. The Foundation has presented well over 9,000 educational free-flight birds of prey shows. It is federally licensed to provide care to over 70 birds of prey daily, including about 35 eagles. These birds are non-releasable due to permanent physical disabilities or accidental imprinting on humans. Many of the eagles residing at the Foundation’s bird facility have successfully reproduced in captivity. The organization operates the largest Bald Eagle breeding program in the world, and has released dozens of captive-hatched eaglets into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains area and other places. It also has been a party to releasing hundreds of other eaglets into the wilds in cooperation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and has supported numerous public education and eagle care/recovery projects in various States. Since 1990, the Dollywood entertainment park has been the primary corporate sponsor of the Foundation.
For more information contact: Al Cecere, president, American Eagle Foundation at www.eagles.org.