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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


July 2, 2003

Contact: Sharon Rose 303-236-7917 x.415


Across the country, eagles and other wildlife are dying due to accidental poisoning by a routinely used euthanasia drug. Over 130 bald and golden eagles have become documented casualties of pentobarbital poisoning from eating the carcasses of animals that have been euthanized. Residue from the sodium pentobarbital remains in the meat of animals long after they have been euthanized.

"These poisonings can be easily avoided by properly disposing of the contaminated carcasses," according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Neill Hartman. "It’s fairly simple to make sure wildlife cannot get to the tainted meat. We hope to get this information out to people across the country who may come into contact with euthanized animal carcasses," Hartman added.

These deaths commonly occur when euthanized carcasses are left exposed to birds and other scavengers instead of being incinerated or properly buried, procedures that are required by many state and local laws. Some birds die immediately after eating poisoned meat, while others are able to fly for several miles. These birds usually die in subsequent vehicle collisions, electrocutions, hypothermia, predator attacks, drowning or falling from perches while sedated by the drug.


Proper disposal of euthanized animals and better communication between veterinarians, clients, and solid waste staff can help prevent this problem. Effective disposal methods include incineration, which is the preferable method, proper burial, or landfilling. Burial of the animal must comply with state and local requirements. Landfill requirements may include pre-notification and scheduled disposal of properly double-bagged and labeled carcasses, immediate burial of the contaminated carcass at the active face of landfills, and sequestration in secure containers at the landfill whenever immediate burial of euthanized carcasses is not possible. Studies have shown that rendering of pentobarbital-tainted carcasses is NOT an effective means of disposal. The rendering process does not destroy the residues left by the drug.

Species affected by accidental pentobarbital poisoning include both bald and golden eagles, as well as other scavenging birds such as magpies and ravens. The extent of other wildlife fatalities due to this type of poisoning has not been thoroughly documented to date, but may include any avian scavengers such as California condors, vultures, several hawk species, wood storks, crows, gull and other birds. Scavenging mammals potentially affected by pentobarbital ingestion include foxes, bears, martens, fishers, coyotes, lynx, bobcats, cougars, otters and others. Additionally, domestic dogs have become intoxicated or killed by eating poisonous carcasses. Zoos have also documented the deaths of tigers, cougars and lions from accidentally being fed tainted meat.

Cases of pentobarbital poisoning have been recorded in 14 states since the mid-1980s. States affected by this problem include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Montana, Nevada, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Poisonings in British Columbia, Canada, have also raised international concern over this issue. At least 133 bald and golden eagles have been killed in recent years.


Improperly disposing of tainted carcasses may lead to violation of state and federal laws when it results in the death of protected wildlife. Relevant laws include the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The MBTA protects virtually all wild bird species in North America, while the Eagle Protection Act and ESA protect specific species such as the bald eagle. These laws are enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and carry penalties for offenses resulting in harm to wildlife.

Criminal penalties under the Eagle Protection Act for this type of violation can include fines of $100,000 per individual or $200,000 per organization, and may include up to one year imprisonment. Fines under the MBTA can be up to $15,000 and six months imprisonment. Civil cases include maximum fines ranging from $500 to $25,000 under the ESA and up to $5,000 under the Eagle Protection Act. Owners and veterinarians have been fined under these laws in the past for inadvertent killing of eagles.

Please contact your local conservation office or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement office if you suspect secondary pentobarbital poisoning in your area.

Photographs and fact sheets available at 

Information in the report is based on data gathered for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Habitat and Animal Health Concern, Inc., based in Stafford, VA, ( or (

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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