Those of you who know us will understand just how passionate we are about the creatures – big and small, legged and non-legged, plumed and non-plumed -who call Lammergeier Highlands Reserve their home. Well, shock and horror. We caught wind via the small-town-rumour-mill that a local chap shot a Black Eagle in our area. The story went that he, who should ideally be named and shamed, wanted to have the Black Eagle mounted to add to his collection ‘trophies’.
Needless to say, this piece of bad news was followed by Kevin and I immediately paying a tense visit to the nesting pair on the Reserve.
Once there, our hearts sank. We could only catch sight of a single Black Eagle. The other mate was nowhere to be seen.
Frankly, I was more than a little dismayed at the hunter’s compete lack of insight into this magnificent bird. Black Eagles mate for life and, if indeed the Black Eagle he so cruelly shot had to be one of the Lammergeier Highlands Reserve Black Eagles, it would mean the end of a nesting site that had been treasured by us for many years. And we would not have been the only conservationists to feel the loss. Many birding enthusiasts return to Lammergeier Highlands Reserve every year to watch our Black Eagle pair as part of their bird watching trip. We felt that we had to do something…anything!
I called the Cape Vulture Society. They informed us that in South Africa, and specifically in the Eastern Cape, Black Eagles don’t share the same vulnerability status as some of our other species (Cape Vulture & Secretary Bird). In other words, it is quite legal to shoot them. In my mind’s eye, I had already seen the perpetrator being led away in chains for his eco-crime. This was not to be. I could feel the frustration and worry mounting. So much of our life’s work goes into ecotourism and the protection and of all nature’s creatures and their habitats. I felt that even if the Black Eagle isn’t considered endangered yet, it shouldn’t translate into an ‘open season’ type of situation. It is, after all, our watch. And hunting birds of prey surely isn’t the example we should set today for the adults of tomorrow.
We doggedly continued our daily visits to the nesting area and day after day we could only spot a single Black Eagle. Still, we kept our hopes up as it is typical for one
Black Eagle to hunt while the other one guards the nest. Then, last Saturday afternoon, while enjoying our usual picnic spot at Slidy Pool with some out-of-town friends, we saw the miracle we were hoping for: A change of the guard with both birds appearing at the nest. Our pair was indeed still a pair.
The moment was bitter-sweet for us. We and our bird watching visitors can still enjoy the beauty of the Black Eagle soaring in flight. The young Eaglet in the nest will have a better chance at survival as both parents are intact. But sadly, somewhere – not very far away – a Black Eagle is now alone after losing its life partner to the ignorance of man.
*Thank you to BirdLife South Africa for the information on our threatened species.