by Jane Armstrong and Mark Hume
Toronto Globe and Mail
February 04, 2005
"You just got this horrible, horrible feeling like you're walking into a crime scene," said Julie Bryson-McElwee, who discovered the dead birds Wednesday while walking her dog.
The discovery sparked disgust among animal lovers and instigated speculation about possible culprits. Indian tribes use eagle parts, including feathers and talons, across the continent for ceremonial purposes. But native leaders who were interviewed expressed disgust at the killings and resented suggestions of a native connection to the crime.
Bryson-McElwee said she spotted what appeared to be a white plastic bag at the foot of an embankment and went to investigate. The white image was actually feathers of a dead bald eagle. Bryson-McElwee thought nothing of it because bald eagles are a common sight in the region during midwinter.
Then she spotted three more, then another five.
Nearby, under a clump of leaves was another cluster of carcasses. The legs of all the eagles had been severed, she said.
"It got to the point where I was feeling very, very creepy."
Bryson-McElwee called an animal rescue service and the provincial conservation office, which removed the birds. All told, she counted 13 eagles, but the number is rising.
Provincial conservation officer Rick Hahn said ministry staff gathered 18 eagle carcasses late Wednesday. But staff returned to the scene Thursday and found more carnage. Another eight eagle heads were hauled away, said Colin Copland, the conservation officer at the scene.
The crime scene is on land belonging to the Burrard Band. Hahn said there are other cases of eagle killings under investigation in the Vancouver area, but would not elaborate.
A spokesman for the Burrard Band said Indian groups are appalled by the killings.
"It's a horrifying event that's out of sync with any of our traditions," said Leonard George, the band's director of economic development. "The way that the eagle and any animal fits into our society is very, very sacred."
A source told the Globe and Mail that eagle poaching is a widespread and long-standing problem in British Columbia. The birds are often shot with a .22 caliber rifle, using bullets known as "shorts," which make little sound when fired.
Bald eagles are a protected species under British Columbia's Wildlife Act. They are not considered endangered, but it is illegal to hunt or possess an eagle.
Conservation officers say they hand over to native groups the eagle carcasses they find in the wild.
David Hancock, an expert on eagles and author of "Adventure With Eagles," said the major market for eagle parts would be within the native community, largely in the United States.
"It's a native, cultural market," he said. "Eagle feathers and talons would be of value mostly to Indian dancers, for use on Indian regalia."
Hancock said Cates Park, which is near where the eagle carcasses were found, is a prime nesting area for the birds.