Bald Eagle Killed At D.C. Zoo

Tioga, a flightless eagle, is seen at the National Zoo's new Bald Eagle Refuge in Washington, in this July 2, 2003 file photo. One of the zoo's other bald eagles, kept in a different cage in the Bird House, suffered abdominal puncture wounds during a fight with an animal and died July 4, 2003. This is the latest in a series of animal deaths at the National Zoo. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) CBS

While the National Zoo celebrated the opening of a new bald eagle exhibit on the Fourth of July, animal doctors had been quietly tending to a bald eagle that was attacked and mortally wounded in a separate exhibit at the zoo, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

The circumstances of the bird's death are so mysterious, U.S. Park police have begun something resembling a murder investigation — making plaster casts of animal prints in the eagle's cage and setting up cameras and traps.

The National Zoo's general curator, William Xanten, suspects a large cat, maybe a bobcat, somehow got into the eagle's cage.

Xanten told Attkisson that under normal conditions, a bird or an eagle could get away from a large cat. But they are "still not sure at this point how this happened."

Standing alone, the eagle's death would be strange enough. But it comes after more than a dozen high profile animal deaths, some of them obviously preventable: rats ate half the prairie dogs; two zebras starved to death; two red pandas ate rat poison.

The zoo promised changes in recent months and hired Xanteen as general curator.

"We're very concerned about what has happened in the past," said Xanten. "We're very concerned about this.

But Richard Farinato of the Humane Society of the United States said that with the eagle's death, critics don't see much improvement.

"When you see an animal like this die, you say 'what really has changed,'" said Farinato. "So far I don't see that a lot has changed.

Months ago, Congress asked for an investigation into the deaths at the national zoo, but the panel of experts hasn't been named yet. The eagle incident adds new urgency to the mission: to find out why a place that's supposed to protect animal species is turning out to be so hazardous for some of them.
  • Melissa Cheung

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