Hope. It’s what carries us through a difficult time, and now, it’s the name of an eaglet dedicated to the memories of the Orlando shooting victims.
"The eaglets released symbolize hope for the future,” said American Eagle Foundation founder Al Cecere. “That things will change, that things will get better. That this will never happen again.”
The non-profit saves and protects Bald Eagles, and other birds of prey. “Hope” was hatched in captivity by one of the AEF’s non-releasable Bald Eagle Breeding pairs at its facility in Pigeon Forge, TN.
“They are the size of your hand when they hatch,” said Cecere. “Then grow to the size of their parents in 13 weeks.”
After living with its parents for 7 weeks, the eaglet was transferred to an artificial nesting tower on Douglas Lake in Dandridge, TN. There, they eaglets imprint on the area and adjust to their temporary nest. Then, at 13 weeks old they are full grown, and ready for release.
Before Hope took his first flight into the wild, the foundation held a small ceremony, where they honored the fallen through prayer and music. Founder Al Cecere read all 49 names of the victims.
"We believe that they deserve, fully deserve to be remembered in as many ways as we can because we can't forget this kind of thing,” said Cecere.
He says the eagle team thought the name “Hope” would be the best fit after the tragic shooting.
“The eagle symbolizes our freedoms in America and these humans just like all citizens of the United States were enjoying their freedoms when a terrorist took their life,” said Cecere.
Hope is the 148th eaglet the AEF has released on Douglas Lake.
When the moment came, Hope didn't leave quickly, but after a few minutes bravely stepped out.
"These eaglets will roam around the United States,” said Cecre. “They will only be here a few weeks maybe and then they are off North, and all points in America.”
Some eaglets will return back years later after they've found a mate, to raise their young. However, they face many dangers once free.
"They say that about 50% survive the first year,” said Cecre. “They have a lot of hazards they face out in the wild once they leave the nest; guns, traps, power lines, contaminants, wind poisons, wind turbines.”
There are currently two more eagles being rehabilitated by the non-profit.
They plan to release the next in honor of Pearl Harbor on July 9th.
“The American eagle foundation is not only about saving and protecting American eagles, but we are about instilling patriotism in people in our country,” said Cecere.
The bald eagle is no longer and endangered species and was removed from the list in 2007. Hope will develop the signature white hood when he grows a little older.