The reward for information leading to an arrest has climbed to $12,000.
By Raj Tawney
Sammy, a 35 year-old rescued bald eagle, was taken from Quogue Wildlife Refuge on Long Island, New York – his home of three decades – in the early hours of Tuesday, July 16. Why? We don’t know. Surveillance footage shows a man leaving the refuge with a bag in hand, climbing into a vehicle driven by another person. The thief somehow managed to break in through two layers of fencing and steal the beloved bird who is unable to fly due to a gunshot wound suffered at age four, subsequently having his right-wing partially amputated.Workers at the refuge are devastated, offering $12,000 (as of now) for his return, and local authorities are scouring the region for traces of Sammy’s whereabouts. The surrounding community aches and has tied ribbons with loving messages to Sammy’s damaged enclosure.
Sammy’s abduction speaks louder to the state of wildlife protection and conservation in the United States and our society at large. The current administration has made proposals to weaken the Endangered Species Act and roll back existing environmental regulations.
Recently, the Los Angeles Times reported that Facebook and Instagram have become a hub for wildlife traffickers, offering a new black market in exotic animal interests – whether as pets or for their body parts. While the illegal capturing and handling of turtles and parrots is enraging, kidnapping a bald eagle has taken this practice to an alarming level.
The bald eagle is our country’s national bird. Possession of an eagle, of even one its feathers, is a federal crime under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Anyone who harms or kills an eagle can face up to a $100,000 fine and one year in prison. Given the bald eagle’s historical relevance to our nation and public knowledge of legal ramifications, Sammy was still kidnapped and has yet to be returned – removed from his home where he was cared for by the tireless employees and volunteers of the refuge.
If our country’s most valued, respected and protected species – a symbol of freedom, independence, strength and unity – can be stripped of its safekeeping, what does it mean for the rest of us? What does Sammy’s disappearance say about our value of wildlife? Of nature? Of one another? Of the sanctity of our country? We must ask ourselves these questions every time a mistreatment of this magnitude occurs. If a refuge isn’t safe for wildlife, what will become of our state and national parks?
Raj Tawney is an essayist in New York. Recent contributions include the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, The Independent, LA Weekly, and Miami Herald.