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Hand-raised golden eagle from Fargo that appeared on 'The Tonight Show' dies

Photo courtesy North Dakota State University

Ithaca, a golden eagle that drew fame from an appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and in other television appearances, magazine and newspaper articles and uncounted classroom visits in the region, died Tuesday in Fargo.

The 37-year-old raptor was euthanized due to complications from West Nile virus.

Ithaca, was hand-raised by North Dakota State University professor emeritus James Grier. He was the world's first living eagle conceived by artificial insemination.

"Some of the techniques (for breeding in captivity) we used with him were used with several other species, including Philippine eagles," Grier said Friday.

Ithaca was hatched May 13, 1972, at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

"It is sad that he encountered and suffered from the virus, that we lost him, and that he died so young (only 37 years old - he otherwise probably would have lived many more years, and I expected that he would outlive me)," the 66-year-old Grier wrote as part of an NDSU Web page chronicling his time with Ithaca. In an interview, Grier said captive eagles live as long as humans, from 70 to 90 years.

Grier said Ithaca was the result of a project he conducted on captive breeding of eagles.

Grier's family raised Ithaca at their home and he lived there, with part of his time spent in a neighbor's barn, for 30 years.

Ithaca appeared on "The Tonight Show" in 1977. Grier also gave frequent presentations with Ithaca at NDSU, and to other students and groups in eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

"I guess I would call him an ambassador for other birds and other wildlife," Grier said.

In 2002, Ithaca was transferred to the Chahinkapa Zoo in Wahpeton, N.D., where he was on display and featured in presentations.

In fall 2002, Ithaca contracted West Nile virus and nearly died. Recovery required months of intense rehabilitation, but he was blinded by the virus.

This summer he began showing further complications of West Nile. His health declined rapidly and he had to be euthanized, Grier said.