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Caught at last - the giant owl with a taste for dogs
By David Sapsted
(Filed: 03/02/2006)


A European eagle owl.

A giant owl was captured yesterday after terrorising a tranquil village in a spate of attacks on dogs.

Over the past fortnight, at least five dogs have been repeatedly targeted by the European eagle owl - the biggest of all the owl species - in Saxlingham Nethergate, near Norwich.

But yesterday afternoon, as it swooped down in a fresh attack on two retrievers, Kevin Slater, 25, an amateur falconer, was able to cast a net over the huge bird of prey and catch it.

Mr Slater, from Ipswich, had gone to the village only because he believed that the owl might be his own one, which escaped from its aviary at the weekend. It was, however, a different bird but Mr Slater now intends to hold on to it for safekeeping.

Earlier in the day, 84-year-old Jack Simmons had to wade in with a broom handle to fend off the bird, which has a wingspan of more than 5ft, after it swooped from a roof and tried to grab Heidi, his 13-year-old miniature wire-haired dachshund.

The bird is believed to have escaped from an aviary, although the BBC reported in November that a few eagle owls were now breeding in the wild for the first time in centuries. Until the male owl was shot last week, a pair on the North Yorkshire Moors had bred 23 chicks since 1997.

Mr Simmons said that Heidi had had more than one brush with the owl.

"It has a go at her whenever she goes into the garden," he said. "I will not let her go out unless I am with her to protect her with my broom handle.

"It is very frightening for Heidi to have this giant bird trying to eat her all the time. I have no doubt that it wants to make her into its next meal. I guess Heidi looks like a rabbit or a tasty snack.

"It is a magnificent looking bird but I am getting a bit fed up with it and I wish its owner would come and get it. Poor Heidi can't stand it being around. She is spending her days at the moment trying to hide in our house curled up by a chair."

The owl had also attacked Elizabeth Goof's pair of flat-coated retrievers, a King Charles spaniel and an Ibizan hound called Ross.

Corinne Douglas, 63, who owns Ross, said that the owl had drawn blood when it dug its talons into her three-year-old pet on Monday.

"Ross is a big dog who stands 30in high at the shoulder and weighs about 30 kilos," said Mrs Douglas.

"But this bird didn't think twice about having a go at him. He was outside in his pen, which has an 8ft fence around it, when it swooped down. It then clawed his side and drew a bit of blood.

"Ross is very quick and swung around to go for the bird himself, and it just flew off.

"Luckily Ross has now recovered but I am having to keep him out of the garden until the bird goes away. It is an absolute nightmare."

There have been calls for the eagle owl to be reintroduced into Britain but the move is being opposed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which points out that the species has probably not been native to the country since the Ice Age.

Though the RSPB says it would welcome the birds if they returned naturally, it opposes any scheme to reintroduce them because of the possible effect such large birds of prey could have on native bird species.

"The RSPB is not suggesting that the small numbers of eagle owls breeding in Britain should be removed, but it is important that they are monitored to know what effect they are having on native wildlife and how they are spreading," said a spokesman.

"It would be very unfortunate to discover in 20 years that they were devastating native birds and, by then, it would be very difficult to do anything about it."

dsapsted@telegraph.co.uk (external - login to view)