LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - The Little Rock Zoo announced the passing of two bald eagles this month, including a female that recently turned 42-years-old.
Leucas died earlier this month of an age-related heart condition. He was thought to be approximately 25-years-old. Hillary also died of an age-related illness. The eagles came to the Little Rock Zoo, 18 years apart, after being injured.
"We know that Hillary was one of the oldest bald eagles in human care at a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums," said Zoo Director Susan Altrui. "She and Leucas both lived long, healthy lives at the Little Rock Zoo after being rescued from a tragic circumstance that is all too common for raptors."
Hillary, a Southern Bald Eagle, had been a part of the Zoo family since 1978, when she was dropped off tangled in barbed wire and suffering from a gunshot wound. Her right wing had to be amputated. She initially was an animal ambassador that participated in educational programs for two years before becoming part of a regular exhibit.
Leucas came to the Zoo in 1996, also with a gunshot wound that required the amputation of his right wing. He was found on the side of the road and transported to a veterinary clinic in Walnut Ridge before making his home at the Zoo.
Because both raptors had amputations, they were unable to successfully breed, but Hillary would diligently sit on rocks and "incubate" them. The two could often be seen in their exhibit sitting next to each other, sometimes nuzzling and sometimes engaged in what looked to be a serious debate.
Native to North America, the bald eagle has been revered as the United States emblem since 1782, but nearly went extinct in the 1960s with approximately 500 nesting pairs remaining. Thanks to intensive conservation efforts, the bald eagle was listed as an endangered species in 1966. Its population significantly rebounded, and the bird was removed from the endangered and threatened list in 2007. It is still protected by federal law, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The median life expectancy for bald eagles at AZA-accredited zoos is 16.5 years. Threats such as lead poisoning from ammunition in prey, collisions with vehicles and habitat destruction still persist for bald eagles in the wild.