The sequence goes like this: There's a helicopter; hanging from the helicopter is a Kevlar rope; hanging from the line is Peter Sharpe; hanging on Peter Sharpe is a small plastic crate; hanging out in the crate is a tiny American bald eagle, 11 days old, homeward-bound after a short trip to the San Francisco Zoo. As Sharpe dangles above Santa Catalina Island, 26 miles west of Los Angeles, the eaglet's mother makes a couple of threatening passes, but he prevails and carefully places the returnee in its nest. Finally grasping the situation, Mom swoops in and envelops her offspring in her wings. And that, explains Sharpe, 37, is why people call him "the eagle guy."
For seven years Sharpe and members of the Institute for Wildlife Studies have been fighting to save eagles from the residual effects of DDT, a now-banned pesticide that had been dumped in the area years ago. Once in the food chain, the chemical made the eagles' eggshells so fragile, they would crack when the mothers sat on them.
Sharpe and his colleagues fight back with a kind of bait and switch: First, they snatch the real eggs and replace them with fakes made of resin. The real eggs are rushed to the San Francisco Zoo and incubated; about two weeks later Sharpe ferries newborns back to their nests (89 have been reunited since the program began in 1980). Says Kathy Hobson, the zoo's eagle project manager: "We couldn't put eagles in the wild without him."
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