Zoo Provides More Eagle Feathers For Navajos To Reduce Eagle Poaching

December 27, 2016
Laurel Morales
David Mikesic checks a red tailed hawk for injuries. All of the more than 100 animals at the Navajo Zoo have been injured or orphaned on the Navajo Nation.
(Photo courtesy of National Eagle Repository)
Adult and juvenile golden eagle feathers.

Navajo and other native people use eagle feathers in traditional healing ceremonies. Up until recently the feathers were difficult to obtain. 

People would have to serendipitously find a feather, go through a lengthy federal process, or do something illegal.

Zoologist David Mikesic, who runs the Navajo Zoo, said many Navajos have resorted to killing eagles for their feathers.

“We do know that we have poaching of eagles on the Navajo Nation,” Mikesic said. “And a lot of it is driven by the need for feathers. So the program was initially set up with the goal in mind to hopefully reduce the need for poaching of eagles by supplying the need for feathers.”

The Navajo Zoo developed a feather program.

When the zoo eagles molt or lose their feathers naturally, a Navajo person can apply to obtain them.

The Navajo Zoo has more than doubled its eagle population since it started the program, with 10 golden eagles in a new aviary.

And Mikesic said they’ve made the process even easier. With a Certificate of Indian Blood and a driver’s license you can now apply online. You can apply from prison. You can even apply if you’re from a different tribe. But Navajos still get first dibs.

Under special circumstances a Navajo can get more than two feathers a year.