Suspects Eyed in Canadian Bald Eagle Killings
VANCOUVER Investigators believe they know who is responsible for the slaughter of dozens of bald eagles near Vancouver in a poaching operation that sold talons, feathers and other parts across North America, officials said Wednesday.
No arrests have been made in the case that has drawn international attention, and conservation officials issued an unusual public appeal for the "prime suspect" -- a person they declined to name -- to co-operate with the probe that involves both Canadian and U.S. investigators.
"Our understanding is that eagles were being killed by more than one person, and being collected by this individual, and that individual was responsible for the distribution of eagle parts," said Lance Sundquist, a spokesman for the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.
The parts are sold on the black market to buyers who want them for everything from artistic to religious regions, according to wildlife officials.
Prices demanded by smugglers range from a few dollars for individual bones to more than C$2,000 ($1,600) for whole birds.
Wildlife officials began investigating in early February when a hiker found the remains mutilated eagles in a shallow grave on a native Indian reserve in North Vancouver.
The smuggling ring is now linked to the deaths of nearly 50 eagles, but officials confirmed reports that as many as 500 eagles have been killed annually in southwestern British Columbia so their parts can be sold to collectors on the black market in the United States and Canada.
Bald eagles have protected status in Canada, and poaching and trafficking in eagle parts is punishable by fines of up to C$150,000 and five years in prison.
Sundquist said it was difficult to estimate what impact poaching has had on the eagle population in southwestern British Columbia, because the region serves as the wintering ground for birds from across the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
Sundquist said investigators had identified the suspects through tips from the public, and a reward of C$10,000 has been posted for information in the case.
Sundquist said most of the suspects in the case were native Indians, but the local aboriginal community has been assisting in the investigation.