Wildlife officials have said 13 bald eagles found dead in Maryland last month did not die from natural causes. A hunt for whomever killed the birds is under way.
The bodies of the 13 eagles were found in a field in Federalsburg, Maryland on 20 February. It was first thought the birds may have fallen victim to Avian flu or another disease, but after necropsies by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) this possibility has been ruled out.
Neil Mendelsohn, assistant special agent in charge for the USFWS’s north-east region, urged people to come forward with information.
“We know these were human-caused deaths and someone has got to know something,” he said. “This is a very serious situation, the worst eagle kill I’ve seen.
“This kind of thing does happen and it seems to be happening more and more across the north-east. We’ve seen eagles shot and poisoned.”
The USFWS is not providing details on how the eagles were killed but Mendelsohn said the agency was “actively pursuing the case and all lines of enquiry”.
The deaths have prompted the USFWS and private conservation groups to put up rewards for information leading to arrest and conviction. A total of $25,000 is on offer.
The bald eagle, America’s national symbol, was in danger of being wiped out 40 years ago through illegal shooting, habitat loss, and pollution of its food source through pesticides. A conservation effort helped recover the eagles to the point that they were removed from the federal list of endangered species in 2007.
Bald eagles are protected under separate legislation that means that anyone who harms one can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to a year.
Anyone with information about the eagle deaths can call the USFWS’s office of law enforcement in Maryland at 410-228-2476 or the Maryland natural resources police hotline at 800-628-9944.
This article was first published by The Guardian on 10 Mar 2016.