Vulture bites vicar's cat in sleepy Suffolk in front of Fleet Street's finest

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The Independent Online

Man bites dog is rather passé. No self-respecting Fleet Street reporter will get on a train to witness that.

But vulture bites cat – now that's one to hold the front page for.

Yesterday the press pack jostled with wide-eyed children, concerned locals and angry cat lovers in a Suffolk village in pursuit of Foster the vulture which had escaped from a Norfolk zoo.

Could it get any more exciting? It could. This was a vulture with a morbid sense of humour. It decided to perch on the roof of a house belonging to a pensioner who has a phobia about birds and lives in a street called Mallard Road.

En route it had sought spiritual solace in a pine tree in a vicar's garden, and, spiritually refreshed, attacked a cat.

This was more than enough to worry 67-year-old Ann Way, a widow who lives in Mallard Road, Reydon, near Southwold. If the harbinger of death had bitten a cat, heaven knows what it might do to her Chihuahua?

"The first I knew of it was when a chap next door but one rang and said to me, 'Do you know there's a vulture on your roof?'" said Mrs Way.

"I'm not very happy about it at all really. My first reaction is to get the hose out and get it off.

"I have four dogs including a very small Chihuahua and I'm worried for them.

"Also I absolutely hate birds. I really have a phobia about them. Yet I seem to get all the birds in creation coming into my garden."

The bird escaped from Banham Zoo near Thetford, Norfolk, earlier in the week.

Before arriving at Mrs Way's home the vulture had spent more than six hours sitting in a Scots pine tree in the garden of the Rev Barry Naylor, a vicar who lives about 100 yards away. While there, the vulture swooped on Mr Naylor's cat, but the cat escaped unscathed.

It had also glided gracefully over the clubhouse of the Sole Bay Bowls Centre where a mens' practice session was in progress

The vulture was watched by a team of falconry experts from Banham Zoo which was trying to find a way of coaxing it on to the ground so that it could be caught.

A crowd of journalists and neighbours also watched as the vulture patrolled around on the roof.

"It was part of a free-flying falconry display at the zoo," said Gary Batters, the zoo animal manager at Banham Zoo.

"The plan is to try and find a way of coaxing it on to the ground where it can be grabbed. It is not dangerous. Obviously it has a sharp beak. But it would not attack people or pets or anything like that. It feeds on dead meat."

Foster, who is a Ruppell's vulture – one of the largest flying birds in the world and native to the plains of Africa – escaped on Monday afternoon while taking part in a flying demonstration with the other seven vultures at Banham Zoo.

And so the hunt continued. Zoo staff offered him his favourite dead chicks as a snack and even brought along another vulture called Vomit to tempt him down from a tree. And if extra atmosphere were needed it came from two seagulls which repeatedly dived and screeched at the vulture.

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