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Sanctuary's oldest animal turns 44

16 September 2015
Jess the Wedge-tailed Eagle is Healesville Sanctuary’s oldest animal, turning 44 today. He has performed more than 350,000 flybys in the spectacular Spirits of the Sky presentation.
In 1971, Jess was rescued by Graham Carkeek in the Warburton Ranges after his nest had fallen out of a tree. Still covered in down feathers and weighing only a kilogram and a half, Jess was too young to fend for himself. Graham, who had worked at Healesville Sanctuary in the early 1940s, built a nest in the garage of his Lilydale home to care for Jess. In 1974, Victorian wildlife permit laws changed and Graham brought Jess to the Sanctuary.
Over the past 36 years, Jess has had a number of keepers caring for him. Kevin Mason partnered with Jess for 12 years in a remarkable bond between keeper and one of Australia’s largest raptors. Kevin has fond memories of Jess resting his head on him and gently preening his hair. 
Today, Jess is flown by Keeper Jason. Jason has huge respect for this amazing bird. Jess has featured on Australia Post’s 60 cent stamp, has appeared in television commercials, on wine bottle labels, featured in international documentaries, made a cameo appearance in the feature film, Healing, and even travelled into television studios. 'It has been my dream to work with raptors since I was seven years old,' Jason said. 'It really is a privilege to work with these amazing birds knowing that they are making the choice to work with you. Even though people only see the birds working for reward while they are performing, there are times when I work with Jess in his aviary or on the glove and he’ll initiate the contact. He often preens me and sometimes brings sticks to me to help him build a nest together. It’s these kinds of interactions that make me feel like I have a mutual bond with him.'
Spirits of the Sky celebrates 25 years this summer and visitors can enjoy it twice daily, every day, 12pm and 2.30pm.