Furious conservationists have demanded an “end” to self-regulation of moorland management following the “highly suspicious” disappearance of another golden eagle in a notorious area of the Monadhliath Mountains.
The electronically tagged two-year-old bird is the twelfth to mysteriously vanish in this so-called “black hole” in only seven years – amid suspicions these legally protected birds are being deliberately targeted.
And RSPB Scotland has called for government action to deter would-be criminals looking to target the species.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s head of species and land management, said: “A report published by the Scottish Government last May, prompted by the regular disappearance of satellite-tagged eagles in this same area, provided unequivocal evidence that the sudden disappearance of these birds is highly suspicious.
“This is now the twelfth tagged eagle to go missing in this “black hole” in just seven years and is entirely consistent with the systematic and ongoing illegal persecution of eagles in this area.
“Despite very recent and high level public warnings from the Scottish government, it appears that criminals intent on killing golden eagles continue to target these magnificent birds, especially in areas managed for driven grouse shooting.
“Patience with self-regulation is at an end and meaningful deterrents are now urgently required.
“We support the introduction of new measures to license driven grouse shooting, including powers for the public authorities to remove such licences, where there is good evidence of criminal behaviour”.
The latest bird to vanish in the northern Monadhliath Mountains was a young male. The RSPB said its transmitter showed it had been living in an upland area mainly managed for grouse shooting since early last year.
He had stayed almost exclusively in this area until mid December, when his tag suddenly went silent.
A follow-up investigation by Police Scotland has not yielded any clues and no further data has been received from the tag.
The bird that disappeared had been paired with a two-year-old female, who is also tagged. Data showed that she left the area for several days around the time the male disappeared. The RSPB said it believed she may have been searching for her mate. She later returned and has now been joined by another male, which the wildlife charity said was “further evidence” that something has happened to her former mate.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said that any member found to have harmed the bird would be “subject to our very strict wildlife crime disciplinary code” and urged anyone with information to contact the police.
But it also hit out at conservationists, who it accused of rushing to blame.
“The legal process deserves respect before people automatically jump to apportioning blame,” said a spokesman.
“It is becoming increasingly impossible to gain full transparency surrounding these incidents when those holding the data are the tag owners who then dictate process and message.
“At the same time, these tag owners are actively lobbying to persuade government to legislate against grouse moors.
“The public deserve to see the hard evidence which exists that the lost signal was down to grouse management and not any other cause such as a faltering tag, natural mortality, eagles fighting over territory or any of the other land uses in the broad general area which include farming, forestry and wind energy.”
Anyone with information about the missing bird should call police on 101.