Tuesday, 16 September 2014
Today we received the confirmation that our beautiful girl Gidjee is dead. Her body was recovered at the last known location where her PTT stopped transmitting back in May. This is very sad news but it is to be expected that when studying wild animals, they often don't survive. We don't know how Gidjee died and as the location where she 'went down' was so remote, we weren't able to recover her body in time to perform an autopsy. However, we do know that that this adult wedge-tail survived with her PTT for 10 months, reproduced successfully (which requires peak physical condition) and managed to see her chick through to fledging and dispersal. All sightings of Gidjee, including the last time she was seen alive in April, showed her to be perfectly healthy.
It seems highly coincidental that Gidjee had survived well in a fixed home range with ample resources and no competition from other eagles for nearly a year, but after a sudden unexpected departure from 'home', she only lasted 4 days. Was she driven away by a rival adult at the onset of the 2014 breeding season? This seems likely, given that only a week after her leaving, her male was seen paired up with a different female (at least we think this - or it may have been a different pair entirely who 'took over'). Wedge-tailed Eagles are said to be 'monogamous' but such loyalty can only be proven when individuals are marked and studied closely. The reality is that few such studies exist, and the monogamy we talk about may just be a convenient (and somewhat romantic) way to think of our largest eagle. Our satellite tracking study has now detected an adult female leaving her home range, and the location of her fate, something which would normally go unnoticed. This finding is extremely interesting and very exciting - it is just the sort of thing we conduct research for.
Of course their are other possible explanations for Gidjee's death: she may have been shot, poisoned (dog/dingo baits containing Strychnine are still regularly used throughout this region), and even died of old age (we don't know how old she was at her time of capture last year). Ultimately we can only speculate and will really never know what really killed her.
The good news is that Gidjee will live on in her daughter Kuyurnpa, who is still going strong and continuing her travels around the outback of WA. And it's great to know that these incredible GPS trackers are serving their purpose by helping unlock the secrets of these majestic birds of prey.