The wedge-tailed eagle, with a stealthy approach that belied its seven-foot wingspan, attacked without warning.
Before the predator struck, it had been a peaceful Wednesday afternoon in Burringurrah, a small community in remote northwestern Australia. Under the watchful eye of police Officer Scott Mason, a young kangaroo named Cuejoe hopped around beneath the gum tree that grows in the courtyard of the Burringurrah police station.
Mason has been the little roo’s guardian since March, to the delight of those who appreciate men in uniform and cute critters (BuzzFeed: “This Hot Cop Adopted A Baby Kangaroo And It Lives In His Shirt”). Rescuers found Cuejoe in his mother’s pouch, after a car fatally struck the adult kangaroo. Mason, who helped nurse Cuejoe back to health, has regularly appeared with the kangaroo in the Australian police social-media feeds.
You’d be forgiven if the snatching of a baby kangaroo runs counter to our impressions of eagles’ noble countenances. Dating back to ancient Roman heraldry, humans have used the birds as symbols of courage and honor. But wild eagles, like all other carnivores, need to eat. And because the large birds are so powerful and move so quickly — some species reach speeds of 30 mph in the moments before they strike — eagles can tackle surprisingly heavy prey.
In Russia, biologists have seen golden eagles take down deer. In the United States, bald eagles typically stick to fish — but an eagle munching on a cat isn’t totally absurd. A webcam pointed at a nest near Pittsburgh, in fact, recently live-streamed bald eagles feeding a dead cat to their young. Down Under, wedge-tailed eagles’ carting off small sheep and lambs is not unheard of. (In spite of fake viral videos to the contrary, however, there are no reports of eagles absconding with human babies.) Cuejoe, Mason said, weighs nearly 10 pounds.
But a particular aquiline habit meant there was still hope for Cuejoe: While clutching large prey in their talons, eagles can’t travel very far. Instead, they devour their food near to where they catch it.
Sometimes, too, wedge-tailed eagles share. As Mason dashed a few hundred feet down the road, in pursuit of the eagle and Cuejoe, another wedge-tailed eagle soared out of the woods.
The birds landed and began to peck at Cuejoe. “He had a puncture wound to his chest and his face,” Mason said, “and several patches of hair missing.” Mason bull-rushed the eagles, scaring them into the air. Cuejoe bolted away from the road, with the two eagles and Mason close behind. “It was a race to see to who could get to Cuejoe first,” he said.
It was Mason’s race to win. Victorious and clutching the bleeding Cuejoe to his chest, Mason returned to the police station. The eagles followed. Two days later, the birds were still sitting on a telephone pole watching the station, he said. With the nearest veterinarian at least a five-hour drive away, Mason relied on his paramedic training to stitch up Cuejoe and administer antibiotics.
The recovery process has gone well. In the week since the attack, Cuejoe “has been doing a lot better,” Mason said. “He just started eating again.” The pair will hit the road soon, destined for Perth — and far from the open country that wedge-tailed eagles prefer.