Missing golden eagle 'shot dead while sleeping' before satellite tag destroyed

Merrick vanished in southern Scotland in October with blood and feathers later discovered near her roosting spot.

Missing golden eagle ‘shot dead while sleeping’ before satellite tag destroyed PA Media

Police have said they believe a protected golden eagle which disappeared last year was shot.

Merrick, a female golden eagle, was translocated to the south of Scotland in 2022 but was reported missing on October 12.

She was thriving before disappearing, having been spotted widely across southern Scotland and the north of England.

Merrick was fitted with a satellite tag that tracked her wellbeing and movements.

In the eight days leading up to her disappearance, she was exploring the Moorfoot Hills, near Lothian.

On October 12, her tag stopped transmitting, indicating it was not a malfunction and suggesting human interference.

An eagle officer later inspected Merrick’s last known roosting spot, and blood and feathers were found nearby.

With so few natural predators, police said they believe she was shot.

Cat Barlow, project manager for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project (SSGEP) which translocated Merrick, said: “We can confirm that Police Scotland has found clear evidence that a wildlife crime has been committed. They are confident Merrick’s disappearance was due to persecution.

“The SSGEP is incredibly angry, upset and disappointed that her disappearance appears to have been at the hands of an individual or individuals who consider themselves above the law.

“The project’s translocated eagles have captured the hearts and minds of all our supporters, from conservationists and raptor workers to landowners and the wider community, including children, visitors and business operators, who all share in our utter shock and disappointment.

“However, this incident, and the staunch support we have had, makes us utterly determined to fight the persecution of golden eagles and continue our successful translocation work to reinstate a resilient population of golden eagles across southern Scotland.

“Looking at the evidence, Police Scotland believe she was shot then fell to the ground, where she bled considerably through a single wound. Police Scotland believe that someone then removed her body and destroyed her satellite tag.”

Project chairman Michael Clarke said: “Whoever committed this deplorable wildlife crime should hang their heads in shame.

“Golden eagles are back to stay in the south of Scotland, and we very much hope they continue to spread from here to all parts of the UK.

“We remain more determined than ever to establish a sustainable population of golden eagles in the south of Scotland.”

John Wright, the eagle officer who inspected Merrick’s last known location, said: “I saw a film of blood stretched across the grass stems.

“It subsequently turned out that a considerable amount of blood was present in and below the moss layer.

“As I stood back from the feather and blood location, I could see small downy feathers scattered in the dense spruce foliage below the roosting branches.

“Merrick had been roosting (sleeping perched) in a tree when her tag stopped transmitting.

“Golden eagles, as apex predator, have very few natural predators and so fears that Merrick had been fatally injured whilst roosting were quickly dismissed. Police Scotland have told us that they are confident humans were involved in the demise of this eagle.”

Detective Sergeant David Lynn, a Police Scotland wildlife crime co-ordinator, said: “The bird was last seen in the area to the west of Fountainhall, between Heriot and Stow on Thursday October 12.

“A full search of this area was carried out and officers believe the bird has come to harm and are treating its disappearance as suspicious.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “We share SSGEP’s anger at this awful news.

“The SGA and its membership have been active partners in the success of this project to date, supplying donor eaglets and helping with provision of food for the young birds.

“We will continue to do so, to help bring about the recovery of the species in the south of Scotland.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Police Scotland on 101.

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