To be so bald
A symbol that represents one of the most powerful nations in the world is again under threat. It has inspired millions for over 300 years. However, this symbol of its own leadership, its own identity is under persecution that continues to this day. I am talking about the mighty Bald Eagle, the bird, which soars over the entire United States as well as the hearts and minds of the entire nation. It cries out an image of protection, of freedom, through the commander in chief’s seal. But it seems this historic figure, which is rooted in history does not possess the same level of protection as does the president himself. With a rapid decline from 100,000 nesting pairs to around 500 in the 1960’s and a current population of around 10,000, it certainly means no animal is safe even with such a prestigious status.
In a world, that contains much conflict with regards to conservation and population expansion there will always be encounters between a human development and wildlife. Whether it is housing projects needing a forest to be cut down or a damn to be installed, flooding a habitat, the choices that are made always have an impact. This type of struggle is the tipping point for this bird.
There has been extensive raptor persecution in this country as well as the USA that is usually based on unfounded ideas and opinions. Most are shot because they hunt birds such as partridge and grouse or in America poultry. These types of incident seem to take place on a frequent basis these days. However, in the case of the Bald Eagle, you would expect the opposite. A bird that symbolises an entire country, ingrained in the constitution, is in the exact same situation as buzzards here in the UK. They are in decline for a variety of reasons:
Shot for preying on domestic livestock such as chickens
Suffering extensive habitat loss through deforestation
Severe poisoning through the extensive use of DDT. Preying on fish in waterways that gradually increased DDT levels that have washed into the water system. This was associated with preventative measures against mosquitos.
Hunted for feathers in traditional native American clothes
This is far more disturbing for many reasons, even though the causes (shown above) are very similar to the issues facing our UK raptors; it leads to an important question. How can we protect any raptor, any animal for that matter, even when it is a national symbol of the most powerful nation in history? To put it bluntly, we simply cannot.
Recently, 13 Bald Eagles were found, most likely poisoned in Maryland, USA highlighting that their demise and torment is ongoing, even to this day. There is however, retribution for any killing of this national symbol, up to $100,000 fine and a year in prison, but we are mindful that these types of animal crime rarely receive justice. Our own UK wildlife crime unit nearly closed here, just showing how close we were to the abyss of wildlife destruction. I get the impression, however, that fines or jail won’t stop the plight of Bald Eagles from being hunted or poisoned. The chances of being caught are slim, and people know it.
The only way it can be fought against is by being conscious and democratic. To understand that this is a bird of your own country, so how can you shoot and kill it? That is the question that immediately jumps out. You wouldn’t imagine British people going around shooting Robins, which let’s face it is the unofficial bird of England. It is on a much smaller scale, but as conservationists we may as well give up if the bird of the United States, the great Bald Eagle isn’t safe and little is done to protect them.
It then shines a light on our raptors in the UK, which has had lots of pressure due to poisoning and shooting in relation to grouse moors. One particular species, Buzzards are, however increasing in numbers across the south of the UK, with some gliding over parts of my native West Sussex area. The noise they make gives me chills every time I hear them. That is the feeling, the emotion that is necessary for all of our raptors both here and in the USA. The sense of awe and admiration is the only things that can protect these birds. I just hoped Bald Eagles automatically had that appeal because of their status within the circle of the Americas fathers. Let’s hope that a sense of pride, duty and patriotism can be projected onto this marvellous specimen to continue gliding across America. An image so compelling, it surely has to prosper as isn’t that the American Way?
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