Jerry Ostwinkle's battle to get his eagle back is over.
In a decision that ends Ostwinkle's nearly three-year struggle with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to regain his raptor, a federal judge has ruled that the eagle, Rex, and Ostwinkle's falconry and eagle permits, will not be returned to him.
"Rex is gone," says Ostwinkle, who saved the eagle from almost certain death when it was less than two months old ("Raptor Rapture," Jennifer Markley, February 1). Hikers picked Rex off the ground after he toppled from his nest and fed him their food, making him sicker. By the time they gave Rex to wildlife rehabilitators, who turned to Ostwinkle for his experience rehabilitating eagles, Rex had three, maybe four days to live.
But Rex survived, thanks to Ostwinkle's diligence. Egg yolks and syrup brought his health back, and soon Ostwinkle was teaching the bird to fly and hunt. Rex had imprinted on Ostwinkle, depending on him as a parent.
The Fish and Wildlife Service never wanted it that way. As a rehabilitated bird, Rex should have been returned to the wild or to a zoo, according to Kamile McKeever, legal instruments examiner for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Nonetheless, Ostwinkle got permission from higher officials in the agency to keep Rex. A few years later, Fish and Wildlife officers targeted him in a sting operation aimed at falconers.
In April 1998, the agency took Rex after citing Ostwinkle for several violations of fish and wildlife management laws, including failing to get proper permits and for using Rex in a commercial enterprise -- flying the bird over the Grand Canyon for a credit card company's TV commercial.
Ostwinkle sued Fish and Wildlife, demanding the return of his permits and his eagle. (Rex was placed with a master falconer and educator with about 30 years of experience, McKeever told New Times in February.)
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U.S. District Judge James Teilborg ruled against Ostwinkle. The judge said the citations were justified and that Ostwinkle had been afforded the opportunity to appeal the revocation through the federal process.
Ostwinkle was crushed by the decision, he says, but it's time to end the battle. "I thought the judge would see all the work I did and see obviously there's a problem here."
After five years, Ostwinkle can apply again for his falconry permits, but there's no guarantee they'll be approved. And even if they were, there's no guarantee he'll find a bird like Rex again, he says.
"The right place for the bird was with me."