Thursday, Feb 03, 2005
VANCOUVER (CP) - A flash of white feathers lured Julie Bryson-McElwee's dog into the bush. She followed when he didn't come back. A dead bald eagle lay on the forest floor.
Lunging to keep her pet away from the carcass, Bryson-McElwee stumbled on Wednesday across a shallow grave, piled with 14 of the protected species. The legs and tail feathers had been cut off, possibly for sale on the black market.
"It's just sickening," Bryson-McElwee said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "Whoever did this had a real operation going, there were garbage bags all around the grave and in it. It looked to me like they were killed somewhere else and brought here to be buried."
She was so upset by her ugly discovery that she stayed with the birds for hours waiting for police, worried that someone would try to remove the bodies once the story hit the news.
"I was upset, now I'm really angry," she said.
Wildlife officers investigating the killings say they aren't uncommon.
"We have found birds mutilated like this over the years," said Rick Hahn, a senior conservation officer for the Lower Mainland. "We suspect there is a black market trade in the talons. Eagles are traditionally used by First Nations people for cultural ceremonies.
"However, we haven't made that link in this case."
Fines for the crime can range as high as $50,000 for killing an eagle and up to $100,000 for trafficking in a wildlife species.
Thor Froslev, manager of the Brackendale Eagle Reserve where 1,975 eagles were spotted this year in the park's 19th annual bird count, said he's not optimistic anyone will be caught.
"How will they find them?" he asked.
"I'm just sick about it. What sad news, and we've had it before."
Over the years he has, on occasion, found eagles shot dead and similarly excised for parts.
"I understand they are wanted for ornaments and for medicine in native cultures," he said.
Chief Bill Williams of the nearby Squamish First Nation said eagles are revered by natives, who use bird parts from carcasses found by the provincial conservation office.
"We don't go out into the wild and take them ourselves," he said.
When dead birds are passed on to a band they are blessed to release their spirit and prayers are said to apologize on behalf of man for their death.
"Because it flies so high, the eagle is closest to the creator. It brings prayers to the creator," Williams said.
Bev Day, director of OWL, a wildlife rehabilitation society, said she hopes the bodies of the slaughtered eagles found in North Vancouver are given to First Nations people for that treatment.
She recently released four bald eagles in the area the carcasses were found and worries they might be hers.
"With their legs cut off, we couldn't immediately tell if they had been wearing bands," said Day. "I hope investigators are going to comb that area with metal detectors, maybe we can find some identification bands and figure out where they came from."
She said it would be easy for someone to lure eagles this time of year.
"They are normally up in the Squamish area now, eating the spawning salmon but with the rivers so high a lot of the salmon has washed away. If someone had a bunch of fish and put it out I think it would attract them pretty quickly," she said.
About half of the world's 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska. Combined with British Columbia's population of about 20,000, the northwest coast of North America is by far their greatest stronghold.
They flourish here in part because of the salmon. Dead or dying fish are an important food source for all bald eagles.
Day, who nurses birds of prey that have been poisoned or shot and returns them to the wild, would like to teach the birds killers a lesson.
"I hope the judge gives them to me to do some community service," she said. "I've got some really nasty jobs that need doing, cleaning out the duck pond comes to mind. I'd give them a really small shovel and a small pail."
"Eagles are traditionally used by First Nations people for cultural ceremonies". "However, we haven't made that link in this case."
No I don't suppose they ever will make that link. But there are many that believe there is a link.
I really don't know how any could do this...I do wonder how they were killed, they could have been lured with salmon this time of year, or shot....I know it was something crowardly tho.