OGDEN, Utah — Phoenix, a 5-year-old golden eagle, leaps from perch to perch in his enclosure. He does it with a brace on his left foot.
On June 21, 2012, when Phoenix was a few months old, he was critically injured in the Saratoga Springs Utah Dump Fire. Too young to fly and escape the danger, Phoenix suffered third-degree burns.
On June 1, a few weeks before the fire, Kent Keller, who is licensed in Utah to put tracking bands on eagles, marked Phoenix.
When the fire was finished, Keller came back to the nest on June 28, assuming he would retrieve the band from a dead eagle. “When I saw the size of (the fire) on the news … I was pretty sure it had got that nest,” Keller said.
Instead Keller found a badly charred — but alive — Phoenix.
After being granted permission to retrieve the golden eagle chick, Keller took Phoenix to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. Keller, a Utah native and wildlife photographer, started studying golden eagles in the wild in 1997 — the third-longest study of these birds in the world, the Standard Examiner reported (http://bit.ly/2tfJmzN).
“If it had not been for him, Phoenix would have perished,” said Buz Marthaler, co-founder of the rehabilitation center.
Marthaler and other team members at the center began working to save Phoenix’s life. Due to the uniqueness of the bird’s situation, much of the treatment was experimental.
“No one had ever seen an avian victim burned like this that survived,” Marthaler said. “The protocols we were using were human protocols for burn victims.”
The initial treatment included application of an antibacterial salve and hydrotherapy, Marthaler said.
After several years of rehabilitation, and Phoenix contracting and being treated for West Nile Virus in 2014, the center is keeping the golden eagle as an educational bird.
Keller said he is disappointed to see Phoenix unable to return to the wild, but he hopes the children and adults who observe him up close will be touched by his story.
“Phoenix has a story that really needs to be told. He’s an eagle Smokey the Bear, if not even more intense than that with everything he has been through,” Marthaler said.