Federal researchers who plan to use 15 injured golden eagles in an experiment involving a highly toxic coyote poison are meeting strong opposition from animal rights activists.
If the eagles don't die - and researchers claim they won't - the poison, Compound 1080, likely will be revived for use by Wyoming and Montana sheep ranchers to control predatory coyotes. It would be the first time the toxin has been allowed for commercial use since it was banned in 1972.In the experiment, the birds will be given lamb carcasses on which a small amount of the poison is placed in the wool around the lambs' necks. The idea is to see if the eagles avoid eating the poison.
Officials want to put pellets of Compound 1080 in special collars around lambs' necks, so coyotes who bite at the animals' throats will be poisoned. But they want to ensure eagles who feed on lamb carcasses aren't poisoned as well.
Tests on the eagles at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood are expected to begin in about two months.
Animal rights activists of the Rocky Mountain Humane Society have denounced the use of eagles in the experiment, saying they hope public pressure will stop the research.
"Forcing the golden eagles to feed from the lamb carcass . . . is improper, and a futile, useless killing of many golden eagles," said Robin Duxbury, who heads the group.
Bob Turner, vice president of the Rocky Mountain region of the National Audubon Society, joined in the criticism. "I'm not enthused with the experiment," he said. "There's no clear-cut proof that dealing with 1080 again is either warranted or merited."
Federal researchers insist their knowledge indicates the eagles won't be harmed.
"I don't think the eagles will die from it," said Pete Savarie, a USDA researcher in the animal damage control division who will conduct the tests.
The birds, permanently injured in the wilds of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, were captured by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After the experiment, they are expected to be turned over to organizations and individuals who rehabilitate raptors.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is testing the toxic 1080 "bite collar." The $22 collar - which has enough Compound 1080 in its 300 milligram reservoirs to kill about 60 coyotes - will be sold only to ranchers trained to use the substance.