Nova, Auburn University’s “War Eagle VII,” didn’t have the opportunity to soar above Jordan-Hare Stadium before football games during the 2017 season.
But that hasn’t stopped him from making public appearances, and staff at the Southeastern Raptor Center say there’s been no change in the heart condition that sidelined him.
“We did our re-check in October, and there’s been no change,” said Dr. Seth Oster, the primary veterinarian at the raptor center. “He’s holding steady, which doesn’t sound exciting. But from a cardiology standpoint, most heart diseases are progressive, and they will always get worse. The fact that we’ve been able to halt the progression of this disease is encouraging for his long-term prognosis.”
Doctors found an arrhythmia, a condition that causes Nova’s heart to beat irregularly, during a routine exam last February, Southeastern Raptor Center director Dr. Jamie Bellah said last year. The staff performed further tests on Nova and found a condition called cardiomyopathy, which limits the amount of physical exercise the golden eagle should do.
“This is a serious heart condition,” Bellah said during a June press conference at the Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital. “His heart chambers were quite dilated. Outwardly, Nova looks just fine. He looks like Nova always does. But his heart function is not the same. And the arrhythmia was the initial event that triggered us to look further.”
After Nova’s diagnosis, pre-game flight duties went solely to Spirit the bald eagle. The two eagles had shared that responsibility since 2004.
Since his heart condition was found nearly a year ago, Nova has had regular sessions with Dr. SeungWoo Jung, a cardiologist and professor in Auburn’s veterinary program. He also is medicated twice daily by raptor center staff.
“He hasn’t really noticed a difference. He gets (his medicine) in a food item,” Oster explained. “The only difference is that normally, for training, they’ll feed him once a day. Because the medications have to be given 12 hours apart, he gets fed twice a day now. To him, he just gets two meals now instead of one.”
Flying is like running to a bird, he said. While Nova is not participating in flight programs, to limit the amount of stress on his heart, the eagle has been featured in other educational programs over the past few months.
“He’s doing all glove-static programs, so he can just sit on the glove and people can see him,” said Rhett Laporte, a raptor specialist who works with Nova. “He’s done two, three, maybe four shows a month since he was diagnosed. So he is still making public appearances, just not flying.”
Many of the educational programs Nova participates in are for tour groups who visit the Southeastern Raptor Center, but he has done shows at other locations in Lee County as well.
“In the past couple months, he’s been to a few places off-site,” Laporte said. “The programs are typically within 10 to 15 miles of the center, just in case something were to happen. We’re basically limited to the Auburn-Opelika area.”
Nova’s next scheduled heart check-up will be in April, pending no apparent changes in his condition.
“We’re just going to continue to monitor him at this point, every six months,” Oster said. “April and October are when we schedule his cardio re-checks. As long as he maintains and doesn’t do anything between now and then, that will be the next time that we take a good look at his heart again.”