WASHINGTON (AP) — Officials at the National Zoo suspect that a large cat got into a bald eagle's enclosure and killed the bird, perhaps already weakened by fierce storms and unable to fly.

It is the latest in a series of animal deaths at the zoo.

The male eagle died Friday morning, the same day that the zoo celebrated a new exhibit designed especially for bald eagles hurt in the wild.

The dead eagle was housed separately from the zoo's two new eagles that were donated by American Eagle Foundation based at singer Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

The 21-year-old eagle, found by a zookeeper early Thursday, had severe puncture wounds to his abdomen and back, spokeswoman Julie Mason said. Zookeepers suspect a large cat, perhaps a bobcat, crept into the cage and attacked the eagle, who could have been injured during Wednesday night's fierce rainstorms.

"It very likely is a bobcat, but we haven't for a 100 percent identified it as a bobcat, but I think we're leaning toward that," said Bill Xanten, zoo general curator.

Xanten believes the eagle could not fly and the cat took advantage of the situation.

"Under ordinary circumstances, I find it really hard to believe that a cat would take on a full grown bald eagle," added Xanten.

The eagles are about 29 inches to 42 inches long, can weigh up to 15 pounds, and have a wing span of up to 8 feet, making them one of the largest birds in North America.

Park police took casts of paw prints in the bird's exhibit, which is about 24 feet high, 40 feet long and 15 feet deep. Experts were looking at the casts and planned to study the bite patterns on the bird, Xanten said. They also set up cameras and traps using fish as bait inside the bird cage, hoping to catch the predator.

Small feral cats, attracted by the eagle's fish meal, had been in the exhibit before, but there were no problems, Xanten said.

The zoo is in Rock Creek Park and bobcats can be found in Maryland and Virginia, Xanten added.

The death comes shortly before the start of an independent review, conducted at the request of Congress, into recent animal deaths at the zoo.

A bald eagle died last year after becoming infected with the West Nile virus. Two red pandas that ate rat poison died in January and two zebras starved to death in January 2000. There has been at least a dozen other deaths including a lion, orangutan and elephant.

Al Cecere, president of the foundation that previously cared for the zoo's newest bald eagles, said Sunday he was not worried about the birds' safety.

"Whenever you have an organization that cares for literally hundreds of animals you're going to have some deaths on occasion," Cecere said. "It's just sad that that happened, especially on the Fourth of July."