Nothing shouts freedom like a beautiful eagle soaring through a clear blue sky. With the ability to fly higher than any other bird, eagles are able to boundlessly glide across the nearly every corner of our world.
So when Israel’s Ezra Hadad of the Israel Nature and National Parks Authority saw a golden eagle cruising around the same area for a month and a half, he was naturally captivated. Upon closer inspection, however, he realized this bird might’ve been in serious trouble.
The eagle, shockingly, showed signs of a previous life as a captive. Ezra became determined to uncover her mysterious past—but first, he had to catch her!
A golden eagle soaring through the sky is a picture fit for a postcard. Strong, majestic, and seemingly unlimited by earthly constraints, these birds turn heads with their massive wingspans and agile flying capabilities. Israel’s Ezra Hadad knew this more than anyone…
Tony Hisgett / Flickr
A member of the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, Ezra spent years documenting birds of all sorts, especially golden eagles. He could be found rooting out the eagle’s nesting locations and hunting patterns, but recently, one specific eagle caught his eye…
Unfortunately, it wasn’t her beautiful feathers or her particularly skillful hunting strategies that made the eagle stand out to Ezra. No, this eagle exuded alarming signs of recent captivity. She needed help, but there was a problem: someone would have to catch her first!
Ezra Hadad / Nature and Parks Authority
In about mid-November 2017, the golden eagle showed up in Urim, Israel. At first, locals along with another Nature and Parks Authority worker tried capturing her. They had no luck, so Ezra stepped in.
Godot13 / Wikimedia
Right from the start, Ezra noticed two things about this eagle. The most obvious detail—and perhaps the most alarming—was that this eagle did not fly unencumbered: a leather harness with buckles was tightly wrapped around her feet!
Ezra Hadad / Nature and Parks Authority
These ropes and harnesses were the kind specifically used by someone who would be training an eagle—and it looked like they may not have done such a great job. The straps would hold the eagle in place on a glove or something else, but there was another problem…
Ezra Hadad via Facebook
Golden eagles aren’t generally excited about humans. In nature, if a person gets within a few hundred feet of an eagle, the bird will typically take to the sky. Within a few dozen feet, she’ll soar away even faster. This bird, strangely, didn’t react that way.
Amy / Flickr
After spending spending two weeks in the Negev Desert documenting the bird and her habits, Ezra knew it was time to get closer to her. Eventually, he stood just 13 feet away… and she didn’t flinch. Contrary to her nature, this bird knew—and trusted—humans. The question remained: who did she belong to?
Ezra was able to snap some up-close photographs of the beautiful bird, capturing her in all her glory. He posted the pictures to his Facebook page and to the pages of various bird fanatic groups. Then, he waited for the bird’s owner to step forward…
Ezra Hadad / Facebook via YNET
Surprisingly, it wasn’t long before someone reached out to Ezra! He received a message from 28-year-old Amar al-Rais, a farmer from Port Said, Egypt. Amar sent photographs of his bird as proof, and after a quick examination, Ezra knew he’d found the eagle’s handler.
Amar, luckily, was no eagle abuser. He hadn’t been keeping the eagle in a small, cramped cage or tied to a roost. He was simply a self-proclaimed animal lover who had bought the eagle for 2,000 Egyptian pounds (about $112) in 2016. He’d even given her a beautiful name…
Amar al-Rais via YNET
Amar said that he named the eagle “Candy” because she was “sweet and very beautiful.” He treated the eagle with love, too, spending about 400 Egyptian pounds per month on rabbits, eggs, and vitamins. She also had quite the training regimen!
Three or four times each week, Amar set Candy free to practice flying, hunting, and carrying flags over soccer stadiums. Not only that, but he captured her hunting skills on video and posted them on Facebook. Obviously, Amar loved Candy and he deserved to have her back, but there was just one problem…
Amar was all the way in Port Said, Egypt. Candy turned up in Urim, Israel. The two cities weren’t far apart—only a few hundred miles as the crow (or eagle!) flies—but in Israel, the laws were different. Specifically, it was illegal to own an eagle. Would Candy ever be able to return home?
Amar pleaded with Israeli officials. “I will take good care of her,” he said, “and release her to nature after she has been with me for five years.” But his chances of getting Candy back were slim; in fact, park officials hadn’t even captured her yet.
Nancy Barrett / Flickr
Back in Israel, a few weeks after Candy was first spotted, a Urim resident named Olga Chigin noticed that the eagle looked incredibly weak. The leather straps on her legs made it difficult to hunt and fly, and Olga wanted to help her.
Olga contacted a veterinarian in the area named Dr. Yariv Agur. When they found Candy, the proud bird didn’t have the strength to evade anyone anymore; when Olga threw a coat over her, she didn’t even resist. Candy’s condition was critical…
Olga and Dr. Agur rushed Candy to the animal clinic, where she hungrily devoured over two pounds of meat! Medical professionals were also finally able to cut Candy free from the leather straps. Could she be returned to the wild, though, as would be required by Israeli law? Or would she be returned to Amar?
After the straps were removed, Candy’s behavior returned to that of a wild golden eagle. She recoiled from human contact—even becoming aggressive at times—which meant she would probably do just fine in the wilderness.
In the end, Candy simply needed rest and food! She had a minor wing wound and she’d lost a few pounds, but other than that, she was fit to return to her natural habitat. Obviously, that wasn’t the end of her story, though…
Remember her owner, Amar? He may have lost a friend, but in the end, he got his wish: Candy was happy and able to soar the skies once more. With help from caring individuals like Ezra Hadad and Olga Chigin, Candy could finally live free once again!
Candy’s story may have ended in a bittersweet way for her owner, but one thing’s for sure: thanks to some human compassion, she’ll be able to live a long and happy life!
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