Lock up your pets, killer owl on the loose

A A A

It could be a job for the Flying Squad, or perhaps The Bill.

Police in Wiltshire have warned pet owners to be on the look out for a dangerous giant owl which has escaped from its enclosure in the back garden of its owner's house.

The European eagle owl, which has a 2m (6ft) wingspan and is a metre tall, flew from its aviary in Lower Stratton, near Swindon, on Sunday evening. While the bird is unlikely to attack humans, it is said to be capable of hunting and killing animals such as cats and dogs if it becomes hungry enough.

The owl escaped when its owner, who does not want to be identified, opened the aviary door to feed it at about 9pm. The bird launched itself at him, he dodged out of its way – and the raptor flew off.

"It could try to carry off a cat or small dog," said a spokeswoman for Wiltshire Police, adding slightly more reassuringly: "As it has been bred in captivity, the owl is unlikely to attack humans."

The force asked for anyone who saw the bird to contact police "and we will send an appropriate team with the right sort of equipment to catch it".

European eagle owls are the largest in the world and are accomplished hunters, able to kill foxes and even small deer by crushing their skulls with their sharp and powerful talons. Their feathers are extremely soft, allowing them to glide silently and rapidly through the air before swooping down on unsuspecting prey.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said that if a member of the public spotted the owl they should not attempt to catch it themselves, as it was a "large animal that will need specialist handling".

The escaped bird is described as speckled brown in colour, with dark orange eyes, long ear tufts and brown plumage. Its owner believes it will be frightened by its sudden experience of freedom and is probably taking refuge in a tree.

In December last year, European eagle owls were among a number of species to be added to a list of non-native species deemed to pose a threat to Britain's indigenous animals.

Although it is perfectly legal to keep the birds as pets, releasing them into the wild without a licence carries a maximum punishment of two years in jail and a £5,000 fine under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

However, a spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that the owl's owner would not be liable for prosecution as he had released his pet by accident, and the Act did not come into effect until 3 April in any case.

It is not the first time one of the birds has gone missing. In 2003, a European eagle owl called Bobu vanished from its home in Pwllheli, north Wales, only to be discovered more than a year later by a farmer in Ruthin, 57 miles away. Bobu was reunited with his owner.

European eagle owls can weigh up to 9lb and live for 85 years in captivity. It is estimated that there may be 3,000 kept as pets in Britain, and there have been reports of pairs breeding in the wild after escaping their aviaries.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue
E L James's book Grey is a reminder of how the phenomenon of the best-seller works

Grey is a reminder of how the phenomenon of the best-seller works

It's hard to understand why so many are buying it – but then best-selling was ever an inexact science, says DJ Taylor
Behind the scenes of the world's most experimental science labs

World's most experimental science labs

The photographer Daniel Stier has spent four years gaining access to some of the world's most curious scientific experiments
It's the stroke of champions - so why is the single-handed backhand on the way out?

Single-handed backhand: on the way out?

If today's young guns wish to elevate themselves to the heights of Sampras, Graf and Federer, it's time to fire up the most thrilling shot in tennis
HMS Saracen: Meeting the last survivor of a submarine found 72 years after it was scuttled

HMS Saracen

Meeting the last survivor of a submarine found 72 years after it was scuttled
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Martine Wright lost both legs in the attack – she explains how her experience since shows 'anything is possible'

7/7 bombings 10 years on

Martine Wright lost both legs in the attack – she explains how her experience since shows 'anything is possible'