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The harsh reality of life among eagles

On the 25th July 2021 near Satao Camp, in Tsavo East NP, David Gulden and I witnessed the predation of a large Tawny Eagle chick by an injured adult female Martial Eagle.

The initial attack was observed when there was a commotion seen of two adult Tawny Eagles (Aquila rapax) attacking the Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) on top of their nest. They knocked the Martial to the ground but not before it pulled the chick out of the nest.

We arrived to see it still alive, head down, grasping the branches. The Martial Eagle had a very swollen right leg and the foot did not function at all. The vent was soiled suggesting it had spent weeks lying prone. Its contour feathers were stained with soil and disarranged as were some of its flight feathers. It was clearly in a desperate state.

Close examination of photos of the bottom of the foot showed lesions that may well be from electrocution. Experience of this kind of condition give its chances of recovery as zero without treatment, and it would be destined to be a "rogue" eagle, most probably predating other eagle young until it eventually died of starvation.

While we had the ability to resolve the situation to the mutual satisfaction of all, by saving the individuals, we could not do so, being in a National Park and so had to let "nature" take its course.

The Martial finally flew back to the eaglet and managed to kill it despite the very aggressive attacks of the parents. The Tawny Eagles repeatedly struck the Martial's head, patagium and underwing leaving visible damage. As soon as the chick died the parents stopped the attacks. The next morning we saw the Martial eating the chick on the ground.

As both species are listed as Vulnerable and Endangered, the unfolding incident could have easily been resolved to the benefit of both eagles, raising a key conservation question.

Does one intervene?

Had it been electrocuted the answer would not hinge on "nature" taking its course. Whatever caused the damage to the Martial, had a similar situation occurred with rare large mammals intervention would be readily accepted.

If numerical status of the species plays a part in the decision, the Martial Eagle, being perhaps 1/150th the population of the elephant in the same region (where medical intervention for elephants is conducted no matter what the cause), would clearly qualify for intervention.

The harsh reality of life among eagles was made forcefully clear as is the dilemma we are placed in when trying to effectively conserve them.


Kenya Bird of Prey Trust

Understand - Protect - Restore

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