Cast your minds back to February and you may recall the story about the white-tailed eagle that was reportedly found dead in the snow by a member of the public on Logie Estate, Moray in December 2010. The Scotsman newspaper said at the time that when the police arrived ‘the next morning’ to collect the body, it had ‘disappeared’. The paper reported that the estate owner, Mr Alasdair Laing (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Scottish Committee Chairman) and his gamekeepers were questioned by the police. The police said they couldn’t do anything without the body. Mr Laing wrote to the Scotsman and said it was mis-leading for them to report that he and his keepers had been ‘questioned’ and for them to say that the sea eagle had ‘disappeared’: “Use of words such as ‘questioned’ and ‘disappeared’ imply a level of suspicion of guilt which is unwarranted by the circumstances“, he wrote (See here for the story).
Nothing more was heard about this incident and it seemed the investigation was destined to go the same way as every other investigation there has ever been into the ‘mysterious’ deaths of eagles in Scotland – i.e. nowhere. Fast forward seven months to September 2011 and the publication of the RSPB’s report: ‘The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland in 2010‘ (see here). Page 16 of this excellent report shows a photograph of a dead eagle accompanied by the following text:
“On 11 December 2010, a member of the public found and photographed the carcass of a white-tailed eagle, lying under a tree on a remote moorland near Lochindorb in Nairnshire. The police were notified, but when they attended the scene a few days later to recover the carcass for a post-mortem, it had disappeared. There were no tracks of scavengers in the surrounding snow, and there was not a feather remaining from the well-decomposed carcass. In fact, the only new tracks that were in the area were those of a quad bike, leading to near the finding location, and the footprints of the person who had walked over to the body, removed it, returned to the quad bike, and left the area“.
Hmm. A few things spring to mind here. First of all, when did the police attend the scene? The original article in the Scotsman said it was ‘the next morning’. The RSPB report says it was ‘a few days later’. Which report is accurate?
Secondly, now we’ve been told about the tracks in the snow, the question is, who was driving the quad bike on Logie Estate? The obvious assumption of course is that it was a gamekeeper. But if we believe Mr Laing, and why wouldn’t we, then it must have been someone else. So who else would be able to ride a quad bike, unnoticed, across the estate and back, to retrieve the dead eagle? Perhaps it was a fox. Perhaps he came out one night under the cover of darkness, jumped on the quad bike, drove it across the moorland to where the dead eagle was lying, pulled on a pair of boots and walked on his hind legs across the snow to the dead eagle, leant forward and picked up the dead eagle with his front paws, walked back to the quad bike on his hind legs, grasped the dead eagle between his teeth and drove the quad bike back, left it parked where he had found it, and skulked off into the night with his prized rotting eagle carcass.
A bit far fetched? I’d say no more so than some of the other explanations we’ve been asked to believe in recent months concerning the discovery of dead raptors on sporting estates.
Of course, the young sea eagle could have died from natural causes, although it certainly wasn’t from old age. The problem is, because the carcass was apparently removed before it could be sent for a post-mortem, we’ll never know. I’m sure people will read about the apparent chain of events and make up their own minds about what happened.