Shot eagle gains a domain


Late last year, in the mountains of Chiba Prefecture, hikers came across an owashi (Steller’s sea eagle) — a designated special natural treasure — that was unable to fly.

The striken raptor was immediately sent to Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, into the charge of Teruyuki Komiya, general curator of the zoo. An X-ray soon revealed that lead shot was buried in one of the bird’s wings, and that it would never fly again, and so could never be reintroduced into the wild.

In many cases, protected birds like these are kept in a cage in a zoo or other facility.

But this time, rather than confine the eagle to a cage, Komiya and his colleagues decided to try something different. They created a small island in the zoo’s 2-hectare Shinobazu Pond to be its new home.

The beautiful pond, more than half of which lies in Ueno Park, is a mecca for migrating waterbirds and is home to pelicans, ducks and cranes. The island has been located so that both the public and zoo keepers can see the eagle easily.

When the bird was placed there in December, though, it seemed less pleased than the keepers: It ate nothing for 10 days. “We became very nervous and worried that this might not work out,” Komiya says. “But then his appetite came back, we were delighted. Now, perched on a tree branch placed on the island, he acts like the master of the pond.”

With his yellow beak and “whitewall” plumage with distinctive white patches along the wings, the large eagle has now become a popular attraction at the zoo — though alarmed visitors sometimes rush up to staff and say, “There’s an eagle out there that’s escaped from its cage.”

Komiya says this experiment may serve as an example to other zoos for taking care of injured wild birds. “It may sound like just one small zoo story, but it actually suggests a role zoos should play in helping to protect nature, while giving people a chance to see and think about nature and the environment.

“I often wonder why we didn’t come up with this idea before.”