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Liberty triumphs, takes flight

Liberty triumphs, takes flight
Vonda Smith releases Liberty, a rescued American bald eagle, to fly free June 27, after the eagle was rehabilitated by volunteers at Last Chance Forever Bird of Prey Conservancy.

By Vonda Smith

Special to the La Vernia News

The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that all are endowed with the rights to “é life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Until recently, this was not the case for one icon of freedom, an American bald eagle named “Libby” short for Liberty by her Facebook followers.

Illegally captured, she was rescued, rehabilitated, and released to fly free June 27.

The incident was investigated by special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks & Wildlife and the suspect was convicted in federal court under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for illegally capturing and possessing an American Bald Eagle. Sam Mathew nearly got away with his crime, claiming he was only trying to save the fallen bird. The Facebook posts, along with testimony by me and my daughter during the federal trial in Victoria County, resulted in his conviction in 2013.

My family and I watched her parents build a nest on a property across the Tres Palacios Creek that bordered our property in Matagorda County. I chronicled her life with video and photos on Facebook, from the time her little head popped into view all the way up to the day she disappeared after being taken from her nest. She had her own little following. She was nothing but a joy to watch from a safe distance day in and day out as her majestic parents reared her ever so diligently.

But an arrogant foreigner with no respect for our nation’s symbol of freedom almost ended her life, when he hired someone to climb up and remove her from her nest around the age of 8 to 10 weeks old. In Saudi Arabia, falconry is a big sport; his plan was to make the eagle his own, train her, and add her to his collection.

One day, during a “neighborly” visit, he revealed his plans. I told him his action would be punishable by law, not to mention it was morally and ethically wrong. But he didn’t care; he was going to own the eagle anyway.

I called a game warden and reported what I’d heard. Two days later, we went out to see the eagles in the morning and Libby was gone. There was no sign of her parents either, until later that day.

Libby’s beak was broken when her captors pushed her out of her nest to catch her in a sheet held below; she missed the sheet and landed face first on the ground. She nearly died in rehabilitative care of an exacerbated case of avian pox that spread all over her beak.

The staff at Last Chance Forever Bird of Prey Conservancy in San Antonio established by John Karger cared for her. Slowly, over the course of three years, Libby’s beak was rebuilt. She regained her strength and learned how to be an eagle eating and hunting for her own food.

Libby was released June 27. At daybreak the following day, she took flight and soared into her new destiny at Caddo Lake, with other eagles calling to her as she squawked during her release.

I had the privilege of releasing her back into the wild that rainy day. Libby’s rehabilitators said she showed every sign they look for that she was ready to be free, so they’re confident she will do very well.

Robbed of every chance she had been given naturally to thrive, Libby had her world turned upside down with all the cards stacked against her, but ended up showing us all with her determined spirit to overcome insurmountable odds. When we look at her, we see courage, perseverance, bravery, determination and stellar strength that will not be broken no matter what evil comes against it.

She turned out to be a real fighter, a true and mighty strong representative of what our country was founded on freedom and liberty for all!

Fly free, Liberty!

Last Chance Forever

Last Chance Forever Bird of Prey Conservancy is a nonprofit organization operating in San Antonio.

Volunteers, led by John Karger, cared for Liberty, an American bald eagle that arrived sick and injured after being rescued from her captors.

They rescue, rehabilitate, and release birds of prey back into the wild. Volunteers also offer educational programs during public events.

Donations are warmly welcomed; visit

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