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Former Calgary zookeeper emotional releasing B.C. eagle back into wild

B.C.’s North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre lets year-old bald eagle go after nursing it to health

Peter Karsten couldn’t help being emotional when he cradled a rehabilitated eagle in his arms before releasing it back to the wild on Vancouver Island this weekend.

The former Calgary zookeeper was given the honour of freeing a one-year-old bald eagle that was rescued from near Nanaimo by Derek Downes, animal care supervisor at Errington’s North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre (NIWRC), and nursed back to health.

The release celebration was held on Saturday afternoon at the NIWRC in front of a huge crowd, with some capturing the joyful moment with long-lens cameras while others videoing the release using their cellphones.

Karsten, who is from nearby Denman Island and worked at the Calgary Zoo for more than 30 years, was tearful when he tried to calm down the eagle in his arms while walking around to show off the healed bird of prey, who suffered from injured radius and ulna. Following that, he let go of the eagle, which spread its wings and soared above the crowd, who were awed and excited to see the bird fly off to the skies.

“It was a very emotional experience,” said Karsten.

“I must say, I had to wipe some tears off my eyes because it’s such an incredible accomplishment. It’s such a wonderful event. Robin and Derek were of great understanding that I wanted to hold the eagle with my bare hands and not in gloves so you can feel the eagle.”

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Karsten said he has handled eagles in the past but this occasion was different and difficult to match.

“To have an eagle that is destined to die, starve to death and unable to survive being taken here and rehabilitated to fly off again,” said Karsten. “That is so extraordinary.”

The invitation to release the eagle has inspired Karsten to create a piece of art, a seven-foot steel depiction of an eagle release.

“It’s just a highlight in my life,” said Karsten. “I was a zookeeper and zoo director for 30 years and it’s still very, very special. I am so very grateful.”

The event kicked off with a First Nations drum beating ritual and a raven song led by artist Bill Helin.

The NIWRC has been busy and continues to receive injured eagles and other animals, including bears. They are a non-profit society that relies on fundraising, donations and sponsorships.

If you wish to help, visit

Michael Briones

About the Author: Michael Briones

I rejoined the PQB News team in April 2017 from the Comox Valley Echo, having previously covered sports for The NEWS in 1997.
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