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Aug 13, 2019 2:58 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

One Month Later And Still No Sign Of Sam The Bald Eagle

The Quogue Wildlife Refuge's bald eagle, Sam. PRESS FILE
Aug 13, 2019 2:58 PM

The Quogue Wildlife Refuge’s bald eagle, Sam, has been missing for a month, and the lack of solid leads on his whereabouts reduces the odds of his safe return with every passing day.

“For three weeks, our hearts have been broken, and we know yours have been too,” refuge staff wrote in an email update on August 7 that was sent out to refuge supporters. “Thank you all for your kindness during this difficult time. We know that Sam is special to many, many people.”

Staff wrote that they will not press charges if Sam, a 35-year-old eagle with a partially amputated right wing, is safely returned. He can even be dropped off at a veterinary clinic or another safe location, and the refuge can be informed through the Suffolk County Crime Stoppers anonymous tip hotline of his return, the email stated.

Sam was stolen from his enclosure in the early morning hours on Tuesday, July 16, and refuge staff and longtime visitors have sought answers ever since. The intruder cut open the fencing around Sam’s enclosure between 3 and 4:15 a.m. and took him from his home of 31 years.

To ensure that a similar situation does not happen again, the refuge created a GoFundMe page to raise money for repairing and improving the other animal enclosures. In two weeks, they have raised just $1,550 of the $250,000 goal.

“It is a crazy world we live in, but we won’t give up hope and we will stay positive,” the email update read. “Thank you for being a friend of the Refuge. We will keep you updated.”

The bald eagle theft —a rare, if not unprecedented, crime — has many wondering why it happened. A reasonable explanation for many crimes involves profit.

Although the scale is not known, the sale of bald eagle parts on the black market is a real problem throughout North America and could have been the thief’s incentive.

The demand, as reported in a National Geographic article from 2017, is fueled in part by the use of eagle parts in Native American regalia worn by tribal members across the nation. Eagles have traditionally been considered sacred birds to many tribes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted an undercover operation called Project Dakota Flyer that has led to the sentencing of more than a dozen people tied to eagle trafficking over the last few years, offering a small look into the black market trade for the country’s national bird.

“With the growth of social media and other digital advances, the eagle business has become more sophisticated,” the article noted. It said eagles are poached and there are illicit sales of the bird’s head, feathers, wing bones and feet. They are often “fashioned into Native American regalia destined for art collectors in North America or Europe. Other parts are used by tribe members themselves: Native Americans have long revered eagles and incorporated the birds of prey into their dress.”

Regardless of the possibilities of Sam’s whereabouts, refuge staff are staying hopeful for his safe return.

“We’re not going to give up hope until we know, for sure, the situation — just hoping that the investigation is successful,” the refuge’s assistant director, Marisa Nelson, said.

Multiple agencies have offered large sums of money totaling $20,000 for any information that would lead to an arrest, but the crime remains a mystery. The Quogue Village Police Department has partnered with Suffolk County Crime Stoppers, Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Nassau County SPCA, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York City Police Department to investigate the incident.

“We are following a few leads. We can’t disclose the names or anything like that of people we’re looking into,” Quogue Police Lieutenant Daniel Hartman said on Tuesday. “But, again, our detectives are still actively working on the case and we have nothing new for public disclosure.”

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