Fears mount over missing owls

SANCTUARY owners are today desperately trying to trace three owls who they fear will die in the wild after vandals opened their cages.

John Howard

SANCTUARY owners are today desperately trying to trace three owls who they fear will die in the wild after vandals opened their cages.

It is believed animal rights campaigners could be responsible for breaking open 30 cages at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary in Stonham Barns, near Stowmarket.

In total ten birds, including two eagles, were released into the wild after the activists used bolt cutters to cut through the strong gates sometime between 6pm on Thursday and 8.45am yesterday.

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Stella Garrett, an administrator at the sanctuary, said: “Our falconers suspect this was animal rights activists, although it could have been kids, or someone thinking it was funny, but no-one is laughing.

“Whoever it was has no brain cells, these birds will die in the wild. They were hand reared and tame, children come in for half days and see them up close.

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“Because they are so tame they do not know how to look for food and we must find them. The owls are not valuable, but they are priceless to us. It's such a shame. We have had our shop broken into before, but never had birds released.”

Manager of the sanctuary Andy Hulme arrived at the centre to open up when he spotted one of the owls on the lawn, realising immediately that something was amiss.

It was then discovered that dozens of aviaries had been broken into and his team managed to catch five of the birds, but five more were on the loose. Those free owls included a Burrowing owl, Great Horned owl, African Spotted Eagle owl, Tawny owl and a Pharoah Eagle owl.

By lunchtime yesterday the spotted eagle owl had been found hiding in a hedge on site and the Great Horned Owl was discovered in a tree nearby.

Now the search continues for Titch, the one-year-old Burrowing owl, Isis, the 11-year-old Pharoah owl, and Gollum the tawny owl, four.

All were hand reared from chicks and Mr Hulme said: “I'm not very impressed to say the least. Titch could probably only survive three days without food. Unless these birds get back to us, they will die a very slow, long death from starvation.

“They cannot fend for themselves because they are tame. Whoever has done this is extremely irresponsible.”

The cages containing other animals, including ferrets and chipmunks, were not touched and no damage was done other than all the cages being broken into with bolt cutters.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk Constabulary said they were open to any lines of inquiry, including that animal rights activists were responsible.

She said officers will be undertaking house to house enquiries, talking to owners and workers in the local businesses as they try and find out exactly what happened.

Anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area at the time of the offence should contact Suffolk police on 01473 613500 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

N If you spot the owls call sanctuary staff on 01449 711425 daytimes, or 07932 315711 evenings.

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