This season, the Boston College football team has brought back a live bald eagle mascot for the first time since 1965, drawing ire from some animal rights groups. The athletic department is working in concert with Zoo New England and the World Bird Sanctuary to bring the eagle to home games.
The new eagle, a nine-year-old male, has been present at the games against Villanova and Wake Forest. BC’s current contract with Zoo New England and the World Bird Sanctuary is for the duration of the 2013 football season, and will last through the remaining four home games.
“Professional handlers from Zoo New England and the World Bird Sanctuary come to FanFest and do an educational presentation on the eagle and the importance of protecting wildlife and endangered species,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn. “It has proved popular with fans young and old, particularly young children, who have an opportunity to learn from the experts about the importance of wildlife conservation.”
The eagle’s presence is not universally popular, however. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) denounced the use of a live mascot at the beginning of September. Lindsay Rajt, PETA’s associate director of campaigns, was quoted in a Sept. 4 Boston Magazine article expressing concern about the effect that the environment of a football game might have on the eagle.
“No animal should be subjected to the strange environment, and birds can become disoriented in situations like that and it can be very scary for them,” Rajt said. “PETA is reaching out to the school as we do with all colleges and professional sports teams who consider using live animals as their mascots.”
The animal rights organization ramped up its efforts to stop BC from bringing the eagle to its home games this past Monday. Delcianna Winders, Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement at PETA, sent a letter to Neil Mendelsohn-the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Law Enforcement for the Northeast Region in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-requesting that he further investigate BC’s authorization to have a bald eagle at football games.
“Parading around an eagle at games violates the letter and spirit of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA),” Winders wrote. “The Eagle Act and the MBTA prohibit possessing, transporting, and disturbing eagles. Parading a bald eagle around a football stadium filled with a screaming crowd, a marching band, and amplified sound would clearly disturb these sensitive birds.”
Dunn responded to these claims, stating that the bird was under the care of an experienced handler at all times. “The eagle does not fly in the stadium and is not exposed to the risk of becoming disoriented,” he said. “The safety and wellbeing of the eagle remains the priority of all groups involved.”
In her letter, Winders further alleged that the University was not legally permitted to have a bald eagle at the games. “Boston College Athletics cannot qualify for a permit to exhibit eagles,” she said. “Instead, the program has teamed up with Zoo New England, which may possess a permit under the Eagle Act.” Winders said that under the Eagle Act, BC would not be eligible to “free-ride” under Zoo New England’s permit.
“At best, Boston College Athletics is assisting Zoo New England in the exhibition of eagles, yet it is in no way under the direct control of or employed by the zoo,” Winders said. “Any contract allowing the college to molest the eagle for the purpose of promoting a sports team would therefore amount to an illegal ‘assignment or transfer’ of the permit.”
Dunn countered those statements, as well. “Boston College entered into an agreement with Zoo New England and the World Bird Sanctuary to host an eagle during home football games this year, during which experienced handlers from Zoo New England and the World Bird Sanctuary have made presentations to our fans regarding the importance of wildlife conservation,” he said. “The World Bird Sanctuary has assured us that it has been issued all necessary federal and state permits to have the eagle in its possession and to display the eagle in this manner.”
BC last had a live mascot from 1961-65. Named Margo-an amalgamation of “maroon” and “gold”-the previous eagle was housed at Franklin Park Zoo, a subsidiary of Zoo New England.
A naming contest for the eagle is underway-members of the BC community have been encouraged to vote online. The naming options are Aquila, BosCo, Ignatius (or Iggy), Margo II, and Welles, and the winning name will be announced during the Homecoming game on Oct. 5.