Escaped BR zoo eagle eludes capture

The hunt for a missing bald eagle from BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo began to wind down Friday after two days of search efforts have so far come up empty.

Still, the zoo, which has received many false-alarm eagle sightings over the past two days, will continue fielding phone calls in hopes of locating the roughly 6-year-old male eagle that broke out of its exhibit during routine maintenance Wednesday morning, said Kaki Heiligenthal, the zoo’s director of marketing and development.

“We’re really just relying on any public sighting that would be promising to go investigate,” Heiligenthal said.

While Heiligenthal called the escape “unprecedented” — the zoo hasn’t had an animal escape in at least 10 years — similarly surprising to many zoo staffers was the fact that the bird even had the ability to fly away.

The unnamed eagle — one of two the zoo cares for — arrived in Baton Rouge about a year ago after a wildlife rehabilitator discovered him injured in the wild, Heiligenthal said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service labeled the eagle “unflighted,” meaning it had limited flight capabilities, and arranged for the injured bird to be brought to the zoo on a permanent loan, she said.

Then came Wednesday, when cleaning crews somehow startled the bird, prompting it to bust a hole in its mesh enclosure and escape.

“Certainly a healthy eagle has a good flying power,” Heiligenthal said, adding that it could be any number of places now that more than 60 hours have passed since its escape.

If searchers did confirm a sighting of the eagle, the zoo would send one if its animal curators and at least one other staffer to try to bring in the bird, Heiligenthal said.

Exactly how they plan on executing the rescue would depend on the location and status of the eagle, she said.