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Famous Golden Eagle Found Poisoned To Death In Yellowstone

She was so beautiful and so beloved.

The life of a special golden eagle living in Yellowstone National Park was tragically cut short — and it could have easily been prevented.

The 5-year-old eagle was found dead in December, but the cause of her death has just now come to light: lead poisoning. 

The golden eagle was widely known among bird lovers because she was the first golden eagle in the park to wear a tracking device, which helped people learn more about the lives and habits of this majestic species in and around iconic Yellowstone. 

"The marked raptor was part of a study to understand productivity, movements, survival, and cause of death in Yellowstone," Yellowstone National Park wrote in a statement on her death. "Transmitter data revealed that the eagle ranged extensively during the 2018 autumn hunting season north of the park before [she] died."

Bald eagles dead from lead poisoning
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) researchers examining 58 dead bald eagles in 2012. Sixty percent had detectable concentrations of lead; 38 percent had lethal lead concentrations. | USFWS

Because hunters near the park continue to use lead bullets, despite the availability of alternatives, this eagle suffered a death that countless others have needlessly suffered. Eagles sometimes feed on the remains of animals like deer, and when there are traces of lead bullets left in the bodies of these animals, death begets more death.

"Lead affects the nerves, so that's your brain, your use of muscles, all parts of the body. The birds often cannot stand ... They usually have difficulty breathing. They cannot even open their beaks," Lynn Tompkins, executive director of Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in Oregon, who has been trying to save birds from lead poisoning for over 30 years, previously told The Dodo. "Lead ammunition is the biggest source."

Sadly, the case was no different for this golden eagle.

"Levels found in the golden eagle were extremely high and well over lethal toxicity," Yellowstone wrote. "Hunter-provided carrion, especially gut piles, is an important food resource for golden eagles and other avian scavengers."

Lead poisoning can kill many different kinds of animals — and even small traces of lead can make animals lethargic and disoriented, which makes them more prone to fatal accidents. 

A national ban of the use of lead ammunition at national wildlife refuges was overturned in 2017, but some local jurisdictions are working to institute bans to cut down on these needless deaths. But more lives could be saved if hunters voluntarily switched to other kinds of bullets.

To give eagles a chance to survive, you can contact the Department of the Interior and ask that the ban on lead ammunition be reinstated.