We check out all the animals The Georgia southern Wildlife Center has to offer

Ashley Watts, Multimedia Journalist

Opened in 1997, the Center for Wildlife Education was developed with a specific goal in mind: acquire an eagle for Georgia Southern. University alumni and master falconer, Steve Hein, was contacted to begin the search after the misidentification of a large bird during a national championship game.

“In a 1990 football game, a playoff game, an eagle flew over the stadium. The announcer said it was our mascot, of course an eagle, and it turned out to be a turkey vulture.” explained Hein.

Since 1990 the mission of the wildlife center has evolved greatly from simply finding an eagle. Today, the center focuses on keeping humans involved with the natural world.

“The mission of the wildlife center is really just to connect humans and people to nature. Really to use that to sorta create that relationship, that connection. We allow people to touch and hold the animals, which isn’t always done at a lot of other centers.” said Education Coordinator, Wayne Paulk.

After 7 years open, with the permission of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2004 the center finally was able to acquire our own bald eagle, Freedom.

“We try to fly at football games and graduations. He’s become somewhat iconic and understandably so. It’s not just Georgia Southern’s mascot, our living mascot, but it’s our national symbol.” said Hein.

Over the years, the center has acquired animals in a number of different ways. Some are bred in captivity for educational purposes, others have been given to the center by the Department of Natural Resources, but most of the raptors have one thing in common.

“The vast majority of the birds, or raptors I should say specifically, are raptors that are injured in some way. They cannot survive in the wild. Including Freedom, people have no idea, while he’s flight capable he has an injury to his beak.” explained Hein.

Though the center is arguably most well known for their work with Freedom, there are countless other amazing animals that call Georgia Southern home. The center has over 17 acres of animal habitats including a 14 foot python, a waterfowl pond with over 100 ducks, countless native reptiles, and more. 

“Bringing people together with nature. You know, there’s a lot of different backstories but a lot of people still have the same goal as to saving nature and conserving nature. We think if we get everybody together we can achieve that goal.” said Paulk.