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Bald eagle dies after attack by unknown animal at zoo

The National Zoo has lost another animal, this time a bald eagle that was attacked by an unidentified animal last week and died on Friday.

The eagle, whose breed is the official symbol of the United States, lived alone in an enclosure and was capable of flying, said zoo officials who announced the death Saturday.

The male eagle was found by a zookeeper early Thursday, suffering from severe puncture wounds in his abdomen. He was in a corner of the enclosure amid signs of a struggle with a predator that is not a zoo animal, said Mary Tanner, deputy director of the zoo. Officials said they thought another animal had burrowed under the wire mesh enclosure.

The eagle was rushed to the veterinary hospital and treated, said zoo spokeswoman Julie Mason, but died about 10 a.m. Friday.

Zoo general curator Bill Xanten said the biggest predators that get into the zoo are foxes that enter from Rock Creek Park, but it is not yet clear what attacked the eagle, which is generally a fierce predator.

Tanner said officials are investigating whether the eagle had been weakened before the attack, preventing it from flying up into the enclosure or fighting back.

Visitors to the zoo Saturday wandered past the vast enclosure and looked in vain for the eagle. Some visitors said they spotted workers from the National Museum of Natural History and U.S. Park Police taking pictures and molds of paw prints.

Visitors had varied reactions when they heard of the death. David Dodd of Harrisburg, Pa., said, "That's probably nature at its best." But Larry White of Alexandria, Va., said he was "amazed" and wondered what kind of animal would take on such a large raptor. "How does a non-zoo animal get into the cage, and then take on a bald eagle?" he said.

The eagle lived apart from two younger bald eagles that star in an exhibit that recently opened elsewhere in the park. Those eagles are not capable of flying.

The death comes shortly before a congressionally requested panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences is to begin its study of a series of animal deaths and animal care at the zoo.

Bald eagles, also known as American Eagles, were declared the National Emblem of the United States by the Second Continental Congress in 1782. They are the only eagle specifically indigenous to North America. Once on the verge of extinction, they are now classified as threatened.