West Point apologizes for falcon's injuries; Air Force Academy mascot expected to fully recover
By JOEL MILLMAN | The Gazette | Published: November 4, 2018
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — The Army's military academy issued an apology Sunday for an apparent prank in which a live Air Force mascot falcon was abducted and injured ahead of the weekend's Army-Air Force football game in West Point, N.Y.
"The U.S. Military Academy sincerely apologizes for an incident involving USMA cadets and the Air Force Academy falcons, which occurred Saturday," said the post on West Point's Facebook page. "We are taking this situation very seriously, and this occurrence does not reflect the Army or USMA core values of dignity and respect.
"An apology was given to the U.S. Air Force Academy for this unfortunate incident."
Aurora, the 22-year-old white gyrfalcon that had accompanied the team for the game against Air Force's service rival, is expected to make a full recovery, the academy tweeted Sunday evening, after she was examined by a master falconer and veterinarians at Fort Carson.
After bringing her home Saturday, Academy officials were encouraged that the injuries weren't as severe as they first appeared because she was able to fly around in her pen.
"It's an extremely good sign that she's flying," said Troy Garnhart, associate athletic director for communications.
The injuries to the bird's wings initially had been described as life-threatening given her advanced age. Gyrfalcons' life expectancy in captivity is around 25 years, according to tetonraptorcenter.org.
"We are grateful for the outpouring of support for Aurora and are optimistic for her recovery," Garnhart said.
Aurora was being kept in the home of a volunteer sponsor, an Army colonel, as is customary whenever the Air Force team is on the road, Garnhart said.
No details about when the mascot was abducted, by whom and how she was injured have been released by either academy.
But the New York Times reported Sunday that Aurora and Oblio, a peregrine falcon about seven years younger, were taken by two West Point cadets on Friday night.
The cadets threw sweaters over the birds, and later stuffed them into dog crates, Sam Dollar, the Air Force Academy's falconry team adviser, told the newspaper. When the cadets returned the birds Saturday morning, Aurora had blood on her wings from abrasions likely caused by thrashing around in the crate, Dollar said.
"I think they had them for a couple hours and then they realized it was a bad mistake," the Times quoted Dollar. "When Aurora started thrashing around in the crate, they decided that wasn't a good thing."
Aurora's injuries have risen to the highest level at the military schools.
AFA spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko said AFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria has been in contact with his counterpart at West Point, Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams.
Aurora was the grand dame of the school's heralded falconry program, which includes a half-dozen birds managed by a dozen cadets.
Animal abuse, specifically to an animal on the government's payroll, is a crime in the military. The crime of "abuse of a public animal" has been on the military's books since the Army was founded, and has been used primarily to charge those who abused pack animals, such as mules and horses.
While Aurora is a mascot, the statute could apply, with a conviction potentially resulting in up to a year behind bars and a dishonorable discharge.
The Gazette's Tom Roeder contributed to this report.
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