A lead-poisoned bald eagle with one eye has a new home at the Oregon Zoo after a lengthy rehabilitation in Wisconsin.
Reetahkac – pronounced "Rate-a-kats," Pawnee for eagle – was found by hikers in February in Wisconsin's Vernon Wildlife Area.
The 3-foot-tall eagle was on the ground and unable to fly. A wildlife rescue team responded and took the bird to a veterinary hospital.
An examination showed the eagle sustained a deep puncture wound to the left eye. Veterinarians believe the wound occurred during a territory battle with another eagle.
Lead poisoning was also discovered in the eagle, which was believed to have come from a meal eaten around the time of her rescue.
Despite extremely high blood-lead levels, Reetahkac was not yet showing clinical signs of life-threatening toxicity. She underwent five rounds of chelation therapy, a chemo-like treatment that helps remove lead from the body.
Once the eagle's blood-lead levels had reached a safe level, vets performed surgery to remove her injured eye so the wound could heal. Her lack of depth perception would prevent her from hunting successfully and surviving in the wild, so wildlife officials recommended she be transferred to the Oregon Zoo.
Reetahkac joins Jack, another one-eyed rescue eagle, in the zoo's Eagle Canyon habitat.
In 2015, the Oregon Zoo launched a program to encourage hunters – traditionally some of the strongest supporters of wildlife and habitat conservation – to protect those scavengers by choosing non-lead ammunition. Educators have reached nearly 7,400 people with information about switching away from lead.
Zoo officials hope a voluntary non-lead program will help protect wildlife in Oregon.
"Thanks to intervention, this eagle got a second chance, but its exposure to lead could have been prevented," said Leland Brown, non-lead hunting education coordinator at the Oregon Zoo. "When hunters choose non-lead ammunition, they're helping scavenging wildlife stay healthy by keeping lead out of the environment."
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