A recent visitor to the Santa Barbara Zoo wasn’t just taken with the animals—he wanted to take them. For two weeks in September a wild bald eagle swooped through the zoo, perching on exhibits and devouring wild cormorants that flock to the property.
"At first we were thrilled to see it," Sheri Horiszny, the zoo's director of animal programs, told the LA Times. "But then we had to be a lot less excited when it seemed he might be here for the long haul."
Without a permit zoo officials couldn’t trap—or in any way disturb—the bird, since it’s federally protected. So while they waited for the paperwork to relocate the eagle to go through, they took steps to prevent the zoo’s inhabitants from becoming dinner.
From the LA Times:
|Keepers moved 16 macaws, 13 otters, four chuckwallas, four rabbits, two meerkats, two cranes, two ground hornbills and a black-necked swan out of their open-air enclosures and into eagle-proof shelter. A party equipment firm donated the use of a 30-foot by 30-foot tent to protect the rare Asian small-clawed otters. At one point, someone thought of floating a large balloon up to one of the eagle's favorite perches, signaling that it was time for him to move on. It had no effect.
He perched atop the California condors enclosure — the five huge birds gazed up at him, curious — and visited the bald eagles, who were quite vocal about their uncaged relative. Whether he was drawn by the birds or by their food no one knows. But his interest in other species was clear as he flapped around the zoo, checking them out.
Nesting, the flamingos couldn't be moved. From dawn to dusk — the hours that eagles tend to seek food — a zoo employee armed with a garden hose was posted beside the graceful birds, ready to spray if need be.
Luckily, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials expedited the necessary permit. On September 11 the immature raptor was captured (a wildlife biologist threw a sheet over it, subduing it) and relocated to eagle habitat near Lake Shasta.
Challenger is the country's most famous bald eagle, flying at sports events from stock car races to the World Series. He may well be our most powerful ambassador for wildlife, too, with an all-American appeal that no one can resist.
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Despite cheap, readily available alternatives, most American sportsmen are still using lead ammunition and fishing tackle. Because of this, some of our most majestic birds, from eagles to loons to condors, pay a terrible price.
Considering all the celebration of the bald eagle’s recovery, it’s hard to believe that a generation ago they were hunted and killed like vermin.