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Trio in court over death of rare eagle

Tracker recovered from river, but no trace of the year-old bird has been found

29 April 2020
By Brian McCulloch

Three men are facing court accused of shooting and killing a royal eagle, one of the largest birds of prey in France and a protected species.

The eagle, a one-year-old male, was part of a research programme and was carrying a GPS tracker.

The bird was born in the Pyrenees and had just left the protection of its parents to stake out its own territory and find a partner.

When the tracker stopped moving, near a chicken farm, teams were sent out to see what had happened, and investigations led to the arrest of the three men. The GPS tracker was recovered from the Agout river in the Tarn but no trace of the bird was found.

The maximum sentence for killing the bird, which like other raptors has been protected in France since 1976, is three years in prison and a fine of €150,000. Environment inspector Christian Itty, who works with the newly-formed Office Français de la Biodiversité, led the investigation and said no further details about the case, in Gaillac, could be given as it was still subject to legal action.

He was, however, able to give more information about the royal eagles in France.

“There are two populations of a couple of hundred breeding couples in the high and wild mountain ranges of the Alps and the Pyrenees, where they took refuge after persecution by shooting and poisoning from the 17th century,” he said.

“In between, there is a small population of 38 breeding couples left in the wild areas of the Massif Central, which forms an important bridge for genetic reasons between the two mountain populations. They are magnificent birds and it is very sad that one should end its life in this way.”

Royal eagles are on the IUCN red list of endangered species.

With a wingspan of up to 2.25m and its ability to twist and turn very rapidly in flight, it is a formidable hunter, able to lift rabbits in its claws.

In the wild, rabbits, squirrels and marmots are its main prey, but it has also been known to kill baby foxes, domestic cats, young mountain goats and deer as well as snakes and lizards. Couples have territories of up to 150km and can live for 25 years.

The Office Français de la Biodiversité launched in January with the merger of the old Agence française pour la biodiversité, and the Office national de la chasse et de la faune sauvage. It answers to the Ministère de la Transition Ecologique and the Ministère de l’Agriculture et de l’Alimentation.

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