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Emotional Moment: Former zookeeper given honour of releasing eagle

~wildlife education~


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

Photo credit: PQB News

The former Calgary zookeeper was given the honour of freeing a one-year-old bald eagle that was rescued from Nanoose Bay near a nest by Derek Downes, animal care supervisor at the 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 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.”

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.

See the original article and photographs in the April 10, 2024 edition of PQB News at

You can help the wildlife in care at NIWRA by making a financial contribution on our secure website. Thank you so much for caring about wildlife!




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