Zoo’s eagles emblematic of back-from-the-brink success story
BY ABBIE KRAUSE
SPECIAL TO THE CHIEFTAIN
CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/ JOHN JAQUES
The North American love affair with bald eagles has all the elements of a great drama – hero worship and idolism, decline into death and tragedy progressing to remorse and rescue and ultimately settling into admiration and respect. Yes, we Americans have loved our eagles to the brink of death and back.
Native Americans have long venerated this majestic bird as sacred. U.S. founders were fond of comparing themselves to the Roman Republic who used eagle imagery to represent itself and thus followed suit in naming the native North American bald eagle as both the national bird and national animal of the United States of America.
Tragically, what followed in US history despite or, in some cases, because of our obsession with the bird, almost caused their extinction. From the 1700s to the 1960s, numbers decreased as a result of habitat loss, hunting, lead shot, and most notably, pesticides like DDT. DDT is thought to have caused a thinning of eggshells and a failure to reproduce. In 1963, there were only 417 pairs left in the wild. Legal protective acts helped to save the species, particularly the banning of DDT in 1972.
Happily, the bald eagle has become an Endangered Species success story. Although bald eagles are still facing habitat loss, pollution, and the risk of running into powerlines or vehicles, the population has recovered and numbers continue to increase. Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in August 2007 because their populations recovered sufficiently. There are now estimated to be 10,000 breeding pairs in the continental United States.Bald and golden eagles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act. As a result it is illegal for healthy, able-bodied eagles to be kept in captivity. However, if eagle is being “re-habilitated” or is permanently unable to fly, qualified organizations are given permits to house and care for the birds. Pueblo Zoo is home to three such birds – two bald and one golden eagle.
Our bald eagles came from the Great Basin Wildlife Rescue in south Utah in early 2011. Freedom (female) was found by a truck driver. She was starving and had a compound wing fracture and heavy metal poisoning. Parker (male) was found with a “dead wrist” making him unable to fly. Both have partially amputated wings but are otherwise healthy. These two majestic birds can be seen in the Historic District of the Zoo in what used to be the old bear pits. These “pits” are no longer suitable for housing mammals, but they make a fantastic, natural habitat for the eagles. Get a glimpse of these amazing birds either by visiting the Pueblo Zoo or attending this weekend’s Eagle Days at the Lake Pueblo State Park ( http://www.puebloeagledays.org ).