For many, choosing a career path can take years of trying on many different hats before one finds just the right fit. That’s not so for Rhett LaPorte, the newest staff member with the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Southeastern Raptor Center.
Since seeing an SRC educational program presented to his sixth-grade class in his hometown of Birmingham, LaPorte says he knew what he wanted to do – join the SRC team.
He was hired recently as a raptor specialist with the SRC. “It is my dream job,” LaPorte said. “I had always hoped, but never expected this would really happen.”
LaPorte says he was captivated by the birds from the moment that Marianne Hudson, assistant director of Education and Raptor Training, came to his middle school with a raptor program more than a decade ago.
“I was fascinated, and I knew then that I wanted to do something with animals,” he said.
When it came time to apply for college, LaPorte said Auburn University was his first and only choice. “I started in a pre-veterinary program,” LaPorte said. “I was fascinated with the birds and wildlife, but veterinary medicine just did not appeal to me as much as wildlife.”
LaPorte graduated in 2015 with a degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology.
“Since my freshman year, I had worked as a volunteer with the raptor program,” he said. “After I graduated, I was able to work for a year as a temporary employee. Then the full-time position opened up for a raptor specialist.”
As a raptor specialist, LaPorte is a trainer and has responsibilities helping volunteers learn to properly train and care for the raptors. He also conducts educational programs throughout the state and at the SRC for special tours and events.
“We are best known for the eagles and their free-flights at home football games,” LaPorte said.
LaPorte said that some 300 training flights are conducted every year with each eagle before the first game of the season. “The eagles are well trained and have gotten a lot of exposure to performing in front of crowds before they ever take that first real pre-game flight,” LaPorte said.
LaPorte has worked with the eagle’s pre-game flights for the past five years. “Mostly, I have been a side-line assistant,” he said. “This season, I will actually be conducting some of the flights. It is going to be exciting.”
Mitch Emmons (firstname.lastname@example.org)