The Hattiesburg Zoo’s newest tenant is the featured attraction in its golden eagle exhibit, the result of a partnership formed with University of Southern Mississippi alumni, students and friends.
An effort to bring a golden eagle to Hattiesburg was initiated by the Southern Miss Alumni Association more than two years ago and supported by the Student Government Association and USM Foundation. Together, the groups contributed $70,000 to fund the construction of a habitat at the Zoo for the golden eagle.
“The partnership between the Hattiesburg Zoo and the Alumni Association to bring a golden eagle to Hattiesburg is a winning combination,” said Rick Taylor, executive director of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission which oversees the management of the Zoo. “These powerful raptors exemplify the spirit of Southern Miss and Hattiesburg as we each seek to attain great heights in building a better quality of life for students and residents.”
The bird, named “Nugget” by the zoo’s staff, was permitted to the zoo after a rigorous application process through the U.S. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. This process included zoo staff undergoing approximately 300 hours of intensive training at the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center at Auburn University.
Katie Barry, animal curator at the Hattiesburg Zoo, said the training at the Raptor Rehabilitation Center was a unique opportunity to “see the full spectrum of every aspect of training and care needed for a golden eagle.”
Golden eagles are protected through the U.S. Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The legislation originated in 1940 to protect the bald eagle and was amended in 1962. Only injured golden or bald eagles that cannot be released back into the wild and have limited ability to fly are kept in captivity in the U.S.
Nugget is an older male golden eagle and weighs approximately 9 pounds. He was found injured in Ojai, Calif., after apparently coming in contact with power lines, and as a result can fly no more than 10 to 15 feet, making a return to the wild impossible.
The lifespan of the golden eagle is approximately 30 years, and their native range is Mexico, Western North America, Alaska, Northern Africa, Europe and Asia. The bird’s wingspan can range from six to seven feet, and the grip of their three-inch talons is approximately 10 times greater than that of a human’s grip.
“Nugget is a laid-back fellow and is taking everything in great stride,” said Krissy Hamilton, education curator for the zoo, in describing her new friend. “He’s a gorgeous bird and is in good health.”
The golden eagle was chosen as the Southern Miss mascot in 1972 and is the official nickname for the university’s athletics teams. “Golden eagles are truly impressive,” said Jerry DeFatta, executive director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association. “I am excited that this exhibit at the Hattiesburg Zoo will provide future Southern Miss alumni, students and legacies with an opportunity to learn about the golden eagle.”
Members of the Southern Miss Alumni Association, Eagle Club and USM students who are hoping to get a sneak peek of Nugget are invited to join Southern Miss cheerleaders and Seymour at a complimentary breakfast from 9 – 10 am on Saturday, November 23 at the Hattiesburg Zoo. To be admitted to the breakfast, patrons will need to provide valid membership card or student identification.
At Saturday’s 2:30 pm football game against Middle Tennessee State University, trading cards with a Golden Eagle depicted on the front and facts about the bird will be distributed by the Alumni Association and Hattiesburg Zoo to Southern Miss fans.
In addition, Southern Miss fans can use their ticket stub from the Golden Eagles’ football game against MTSU to receive a $1 discount on admission to the Hattiesburg Zoo on Sunday, November 24 from 10 am – 4 pm and have a chance to see Nugget at the exhibit. "We are excited to host alumni, students and supporters of the university prior to Saturday's contest with Middle Tennessee State,” said Taylor. “We hope that a visit to Nugget's aviary will become part of the pre-game ritual for Southern Miss fans."
The Hattiesburg Zoo is located at 107 S. 17th Avenue. For more information about the zoo, visit HattiesburgZoo.com. The Hattiesburg Zoo is a Hattiesburg Convention Commission Facility, in partnership with the City of Hattiesburg and the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission. Since 1991, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission has been developing and operating tourism-related facilities for the Hattiesburg area.
For more information, visit www.ZooHattiesburg.com or call 601.545.4576.