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Taken from Winnipeg Free Press ... 03121.html

Local Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Decapitated bald eagle, polar bear pelt net $3-K fine
By: Mike McIntyre

Posted: 09/29/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 12
4 3Reddit1Tumblr0 59Print E–mail A Manitoba outdoorsman has admitted to one of the province's most troubling poaching cases, which includes beheading a bald eagle and using a polar bear pelt as his living room carpet.

The 2009 discovery -- revealed publicly this week in court documents obtained by the Free Press -- has stunned veteran conservation and justice officials who say these types of wildlife are very rarely targeted for trophies.

"You just don't do this," Crown attorney Shane Smith told a Lundar courtroom Thursday.

Blair Shabaga, 57, pleaded guilty to charges under the Wildlife Act. He was given a $3,000 fine by provincial court Judge Heather Pullan.

The Crown had been seeking close to the maximum $10,000 fine, saying the slaying of the bald eagle is especially alarming given it is a protected species. It has previously been considered an endangered species.

"The punishment here needs to sting. There has to be a meaningful consequence to Mr. Shabaga to make sure this doesn't happen again," Smith argued.

"And this has to let the community know these types of animals will be protected."

Shabaga denied playing a direct role in the deaths of both animals, although the circumstances remain shrouded in mystery. "Suffice to say this is an unusual case," Pullan said.

She agreed to Shabaga's request for a much lesser fine, citing his lack of criminal history and precarious financial situation as a result of being divorced and self-employed.

A resident of Eriksdale called police in April 2009 after hearing a gunshot ring out on her sprawling property. She had searched the area and saw Shabaga and another man, later identified as Shabaga's nephew, driving around, armed with a rifle.

The pair claimed they were hunting crows and quickly fled. But the woman realized they were preying on a much larger bird. While driving around the property on an all-terrain vehicle, she checked out a heavily treed area where she often saw a bald eagle.

"She found blood, feathers and a large amount of bird feces," said Smith. A closer look provided an even more startling find: the headless, talon-less torso of the bird.

RCMP and Manitoba Conservation officials began an investigation that ended with a search warrant of Shabaga's nearby property. Inside a Quonset hut, they found the eagle head and talons, along with a second set of eagle talons, which had already been mounted. Inside his home, investigators found a white polar bear pelt being used as a carpet.

They also found partial remains of decomposing ducks, geese and fish.

Defence lawyer Todd Bourcier told court Shabaga didn't shoot the bald eagle. Instead, his client blames his young nephew, who was not in court on charges.

Shabaga claimed the second set of mounted eagle talons came from a dead animal he found years ago.

He also claimed the polar bear carpet was a gift from an elderly family friend who is unable to speak because of a stroke.

"He was not responsible for shooting or causing the deaths of these animals," said Bourcier.

He said Shabaga kept the items as mementoes, and didn't plan to sell them on the black market.

Court was told in no circumstance can a person possess any part of a bald eagle. "There's a reason you can't get a permit for them. It's a protected species," Smith said.

Permits are available for polar bears, but Shabaga did not have one.
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