If you ever wondered why America’s national bird nearly went extinct, this story offers a pretty straightforward example.
Sometime in late October, two American bald eagles were shot and left to rot in an East Texas field.
Now, officials from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department want your help in tracking down those responsible.
A private landowner discovered the birds near County Road 283 in Nacogdoches County, located about 3 hours southeast of Dallas. The individual found the eagles roughly 15 yards apart, and both had pass-through bullet wounds, meaning they were likely shot with a rifle, officials said.
While Texas wildlife officials have “a couple of leads,” they’re still looking for tips to catch the poacher, according to Texas Game Warden Randy Stovall.
“It’s very unusual,” he said. “This is a beloved animal, and it’s very sad that this happened. It’s not something we come across a lot.”
Stiff Punishment for Eagle Poachers
Although federal officials removed bald eagles from the Endangered Species List in 2007, they remain a threatened species. That means it’s still illegal to kill or harm them in any way. Bald eagles have been poached in Texas before, but it remains rare in a state with just 160 active nests.
A federal poaching charge is punishable by up to 2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine per bird, Stovall said.
While Stovall has seen other dead bald eagles in his 13 years working in Nacogdoches County, the deaths are usually the result of old age or getting hit by cars. In this case, killing the birds and leaving them shows the actions of a “true poacher,” Stovall said.
“It’s just shoot to shoot, or kill to kill — I can’t make sense out of it,” he said. “It’s a protected bird, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to shoot one.”
In addition to federal charges, those responsible could also face misdemeanor charges of trespassing and firing a gun from a public roadway.
“It’s going to be locals, and I predict someone giving them up pretty soon,” Stovall said. “It’s a rural area here. People talk.”
A Major Comeback Story
While it’s disappointing to hear of continued poaching, bald eagles seem to have a brighter future.
Populations of this iconic bird of prey — one of the first animals added to the Endangered Species List in 1973 — have rebounded after decades of death through poaching and pesticide.
In fact, the birds’ population has quadrupled in size since 2009, CBS News reported last year. In 1963, just 417 nesting pairs existed in the contiguous United States. But in 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that their number had grown to 71,400.
When the department announced the recovery, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Halland called it “truly a historic conservation success story.” She went on to say in the news release that the announcement gave her “hope.”
If you have any information that could help Texas wildlife officials catch poachers, contact the Operation Game Thief line at 800-792-GAME (4263).