The owl and the (peckish) pussycat: Children scream in horror as lion eats blundering bird

By Andrew Levy

Ash, the barn owl from Colchester zoo who was eaten by a lion during a display

IT is a scene played out in thousands of gardens every day...albeit on a rather smaller scale.

But when a cat caught and devoured a bird at a zoo, it caused pandemonium among visitors.

In this case it was a lion that ate a barn owl which had become ‘spooked’ during a falconry display and flown out of the arena.

One of the lions at the zoo that is believed to have pounced on the owl after it was knocked out of the air by a lioness

The unfortunate bird, a female called Ash, had been left dazed and disoriented after clattering into a window.

She landed unsteadily in a couple of other spots before swooping down to a ledge in the lion enclosure.

The bird then appears to have lost her footing and was clubbed out of the air by a lioness before a male pounced and made short work of her as screaming zoo visitors looked on.

Staff at Colchester Zoo in Essex quickly moved in but were unable to prevent Ash’s untimely death.

Gavin Duthie, who witnessed the gruesome scene with his two-year-old son Daniel, said: ‘He was in tears, along with most of the people who were there. Women and children were screaming but it was all over in seconds.

Colchester Zoo where an owl was killed in front of children during a demonstration

‘It’s in the lion’s nature. I have taught Daniel that lions are not fluffy animals.
He was very upset but we will be back in the zoo again.’

The drama took place on Saturday afternoon as dozens of visitors gathered around the falconry arena.

The owl, who was nine and might have lived for up to 20 years in captivity, is believed to have been frightened by a noise or a camera flash and veered into a nearby window.

She then flew on to the roof of a meerkat enclosure before entering the lion’s habitat, where she lost her footing and was swiped by a waiting paw.

Moments later she was swallowed up by another of the big cats, five-year-old Bailey, whose diet were he on the African plains would be more likely to include wildebeest, zebras or buffalo.

It was no contest between the 8ft, 550lb king of the jungle and the 19oz barn owl – also known in folklore as the Death Owl.

The crowd was moved on and the area closed off as zoo keepers tried to restore order. Ash was one of a handful of barn owls that had been bred in captivity at Colchester.

Describing the bird’s final moments, the zoo’s marketing director Alex Downing said yesterday: ‘Although she landed on the side of the enclosure, she very sadly lost her footing and fell in, whereupon she was killed by one of the lions.’

She added: ‘Everyone is obviously extremely upset about such a combination of events.
‘But there is nothing that anyone could have done at the time to avoid such an awful outcome.

‘In 25 years of falconry displays a fatality has never occurred as the birds do normally instinctively know that this isn’t a safe place to go.

Unfortunately, we can only assume that it was because she was dazed that she flew across the enclosure.’



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