After 25 years of traveling across America to raise awareness and educate others about his species, Challenger the Eagle will be retiring from doing his famous free-flight performances in front of tens of thousands of professional sports fans.
The American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge announced the news Wednesday. Challenger was the first North American Bald Eagle to ever be trained and allowed to free-fly at major sports stadiums and arenas.
The celebrity eagle is about to celebrate his 30th birthday this year, so the AEF is committed to providing him a beneficial and healthy future as an eagle ambassador.
The AEF said Challenger will still travel with them coast-to-coast to sporting events and venues to continue his mission of raising awareness for bald eagles, but will no longer be soaring above stadiums as the National Anthem plays. Instead, he will be making gloved appearances at those many functions he used to fly at.
Challenger will also enjoy plenty of well-deserved rest and relaxation here in East Tennessee and continue his daily flight exercises.
Challenger captured the nation's attention when he was rescued at a tender age back in spring 1989. Named after the tragic loss of the 'Challenger' space shuttle, he had been blown out of his nest in Louisiana during a storm at just a few weeks old.
Some folks rescued him with good intentions to save him, but he became domesticated by human contact -- so much so that he couldn't return to the wild and survive on his own. However, it was that early human contact that also made him so unique and allowed him to perform.
The AEF took him in during a time when the symbol of our nation was in danger of extinction, training him to free-fly during the Star Spangled Banner in hopes of raising awareness to the species' desperate plight.
The rest is in the history books, and thanks in part to Challenger's efforts by performing at countless high-profile professional sports events -- bald eagles made a remarkably rapid rebound in their population and are no longer considered an endangered or threatened species.
"Challenger is truly one-of-a-kind. There will never be another like him," the AEF said.