HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg Zoo's newest attraction is fast becoming a must-see for any true fan of Golden Eagles athletics. Nugget, a nine-year-old male golden eagle, was the center of attention Saturday morning as dozens of Southern Miss alumni, Eagle Club members and students visited him before the USM-Middle Tennessee State University football game.
On Thursday night, a new exhibit featuring Nugget was officially opened. It's a partnership between the zoo and the Southern Miss Alumni Association. That organization, along with the university's Student Government Association and the USM Foundation, contributed $70,000 to build a golden eagle habitat.
At one time, Southern Miss housed its own live golden eagle mascot, but it was found starved to death in 1993.
It was also named Nugget.
The new eagle is permitted to the Hattiesburg Zoo and will be permanently housed in its enclosure.
"I think it's a great addition to the university environment here in Hattiesburg," said Tommy Gunn, a Southern Miss fan who visited the zoo Saturday morning.
"This bird does not belong to the university, nor does it belong to the Hattiesburg Zoo," said Jerry DeFatta, executive director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association. "It's on loan to the Hattiesburg Zoo from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries," he said.
"We encourage people to go to our website, www.hattiesburgzoo.com, where they can find a lot of information, not just about Nugget, but about golden eagles in general," said Kristie Fairley, deputy director of marketing/communication for the Hattiesburg Tourism and Convention commissions.
Two years ago, Nugget was injured after coming into contact with power lines and can only fly a short distance, which means he can never be returned to the wild.
He comes to Hattiesburg from California.