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January 31, 2010

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Eagle saved from poisons

WHITE-TAILED eagles are carnivorous birds that rank high on the food chain, and, to most people's thinking, they are far removed from our daily lives. But the reality is closer to home than we think.

They feed primarily on fish but also hunt small birds and mammals. In so doing, they are susceptible to toxins ingested by their prey.

And because of human population growth, use of pesticides and hunting, many raptor species like these are threatened.

As an endangered species listed under first-class protection in China, it is alarming to note that they form 5 percent of the wildlife victims of secondary poisoning.

Since 2001, the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center (BRRC) has treated more than 3,000 rescued birds.

In rural regions, it is common for hunters to use poisoned food to trap wildlife. Common poisons used are insecticides and rodenticides. After the animal consumes the poisoned prey, become stricken and unable to escape, they will be taken to the market and sold for food.

Recently, a white-tailed sea eagle found itself helpless after it consumed the "wrong" prey. The endangered raptor had vomited duck feathers after allegedly devouring poisoned ducks at the Guan Ting reservoir in Yan Qing, 70 kilometers northwest of Beijing.

The injured eagle was discovered by a person surnamed Yi and four other friends who were visiting the reservoir to watch birds.

"It was off balance and could not fly. We thought the bird had been injured and hurried to help it by taking it to the raptor rescue center," said Yi.

Although two white-tailed sea eagles were poisoned at the reservoir, only one survived the attack. The other eagle died on the way to BRRC.

"We saw another white-tailed sea eagle not far away from this one, sadly in its last gasps," added Yi.

Staff at BRRC diagnosed the eagle's condition as organophosphate (insecticide) poisoning and administered medication. The bird responded well and recovered in response to precautions to optimize its comfort and sense of security.

It gained strength and health but was unhappy in captivity and has since been released back into the wild.

In the meantime, Yi had observed that the number of wild birds around the Guan Ting reservoir had decreased in number as compared with the previous year and that several dead ducks were also discovered near the eagles.

He called the police who said action would be taken against those who hunt protected animals.

"It is common for local people to capture pheasants and hares, and we will punish suspects who hunt rare animals," said an officer at the local police station.

The BRRC feels that regulations on the use of poisons should be stricter to minimize harm to wildlife, domestic animals and people.

In Beijing, white-tailed sea eagles are rare winter migratory birds, inhabiting areas near broad rivers. Normally, they can be found across northern Europe and Asia.

After 16 years on the threatened species list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, European recovery efforts for the bird have secured its international conservation status since 2009.


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