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American Natural Resources on Broad Street in downtown Griffith – the only wood-hewn log cabin-looking building with a moose and bear on the roof and an alligator and another moose on the sidewalk outside – has stuffed a lot of animals over the years.

"Northwest Indiana's premier taxidermy seller," which also sells rustic furniture, bear rugs, and antler chandeliers, has mounted chickens, Hungarian pheasants, sharptail grouse, ducks, owls, smallmouth bass, blue marlin, sharks, beavers, squirrels, raccoons, foxes, otters, bobcat, deer, elk, moose, and even mountain lions. They've mounted everything from tiny chipmunks to hulking bears.

But in 65 years, owner Edward Leep Sr. never had the chance to stuff a bald eagle – until now. His shop got the chance to stuff and mount the national bird that stands as a soaring symbol of America's freedom so a Native American tribe could use it for religious ceremonies.

Disturbing the remains of the majestic bird of prey would otherwise be strictly forbidden by The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act that Congress passed in 1940.

"Under the national eagle act, you can't touch a feather on the bald eagle," Leep said. "They are 100% protected by the national government. They're also protected as an endangered species because of the DDT. It's not just the law – it's an Act of Congress."

Native American tribes are however allowed to stuff bald eagles for religious worship. A tribe commissioned American Natural Resources to stuff an eagle that had died naturally, a process that required special permits.

"It's the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen," Leep said. 

American Natural Resources spent about a day stuffing the bird. The taxidermists there took it apart, washed it and cleaned it before putting it back together and posing it on a tree branch, where it now eternally stands sentinel, gazing off into a distant horizon.

"It's a big bird," Leep said. "It's like mounting a Canadian Goose. That's within our spectrum. That's within our ability as the largest full-service taxidermist in the area. I just thought this was a point of interest for the Calumet Region. It's such a regal bald eagle. It's a beautiful bird."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.