THE Scottish Gamekeepers Association is challenging claims that a golden eagle suffered an “appalling and lingering” death after its legs were broken in an illegally set spring trap.
Last September, wildlife charity RSPB Scotland posted a reward for only the third time in its history following the death of the young bird of prey.
RSPB investigators claimed the eagle, which had been fitted with a satellite transmitter, was left unable to fly after its legs were smashed by a trap set on a hillside on an unidentified estate in the Angus glens and was deliberately moved ten miles to a site on Royal Deeside, where it took up to five days to die.
The body of the golden eagle was found on 5 May last year near a lay-by on a minor road between Aboyne and Banchory in Aberdeenshire.
The RSPB posted a £1,000 reward for information leading to prosecution of those responsible for the “appalling crime”.
In an unprecedented move, the organisation which represents 5,300 gamekeepers, stalkers and ghillies, issued its own report into the death of the young raptor, claiming there was no evidence that the eagle was a victim of wildlife crime.
And it accused the wildlife charity of presenting a series of unverified claims “to reach a predisposed conclusion”. A spokesman for the SGA said: “Despite being part of a live investigation, the RSPB went to the press four months after the eagle was found, stating the bird had been caught in illegally-set traps.
“Police did not find evidence to support this theory and a report by a vet suggested that the injuries were only ‘consistent’ with those which might have been caught in a trap.
“By gathering detailed knowledge from those conversant with the operation and strength of the traps suggested, our report describes this assertion as ‘highly improbable’. Similarly, a lack of substantive evidence was found to back RSPB claims the bird had been moved and left to die under a tree where it suffered a ‘lingering death’.”
The spokesman continued: “The SGA promised to conduct its own inquiry into this case because it felt there was sufficient dubiety in the version of events put forward through the media. We also promised to assist the police where possible – an offer which still remains.
“The SGA has worked extremely hard as an active partner in Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (Paw) and is proud of the dramatic fall in the number of bird of prey abuse cases in Scotland – a trend set to be further cemented next month when the 2012 figures are published.
“However, if it is found that no evidence of wrong-doing is established in this case, and because of the unverified claims reported by the RSPB to the media, the SGA feels it is important to call into question whether it is appropriate that any singular organisation, with a clear political agenda, should be privy to such sensitive evidence under the guise of expert witnesses in crime cases.”
Duncan Orr-Ewing, the head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, refuted the “desperate” claims of the SGA.
He said: “We reject absolutely these unprofessional assertions of the SGA.
“This is a rather desperate statement, which seemingly does more to reveal their true nature as apologists for the worst types of wildlife crime, as they try to defend the indefensible.”