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Bird of Prey escapes London Zoo for second time

'What if someone had a small chihuahua?', ask shocked park users

11 June, 2019 — By Tom Foot

A caracara at London Zoo [PIC: Loz Pycock]

A BIRD of Prey escaped London Zoo for the second time in 18 months on Sunday, soaring out of the grounds during a meet the animals show for families.

The striated caracara named “Louie”, originally from the Falkland Islands, sparked a search of nearby Regent’s Park which left picnickers stunned by the sight of zookeepers waving around a dead rat on a stick in an attempt to coax it back.

The same bird pulled a Houdini act last year and was missing for ten days until being traced to Kilburn.

Parent Illy Montefiore, who was in the park, said: “This was particularly disgusting for people having picnics and had not wished to see this spectacle. Imagine if you were walking your dog, and someone came along swinging around a bit of carcass? You’d think this was really out of order.”

She added that other park birds had been “flocking in mass and responding loudly” to Louie’s arrival on the tree, adding: “It was like Alfred Hitchcock. It was surrounded by crows in the tree. There wasn’t a pigeon in sight. We spoke to a zookeeper and they said it had been spooked from what had happened in a show. It didn’t seem at all interested in coming down. Then it just flew off, prehistorically.”

The bird eventually was found in a nearby housing estate on Tuesday morning, after two days as a fugitive.

Ms Montefiore added: “Clearly lessons have not been learnt from the past. This bird could be a danger to other birds, small dogs and children. If it’s hungry and it hasn’t eating for a while. What if someone had a small chihuahua?”

She added: “The zoo is supposed to promoting animal welfare and being an animal person it seems to me they are not taking enough care of these birds. They need to do a risk assessment.”

In January 2018, Louise spent ten days on the run after fleeing a similar exercise. It was later seen swooping for scraps from a butchers on the Kilburn High Road before tucking into a whole cooked chicken in Grange Park.

The caracara is most commonly found on the remote and windswept British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. English-speaking locals on the islands, where the species has a reputation for bold and mischievous behaviour, refer to them as “Johnny Rooks”.

When botanist Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary biology, encountered the birds on a visit to the Falklands in the 1830s, he was said to have been struck by their tameness, inquisitive behaviour and opportunistic feeding habits.

A zoo spokeswoman said Louie was “retrieved from a nearby apartment-block”, adding: “ZSL London Zoo’s striated caracara, Louie, was returned to ZSL London Zoo this morning after he flew off into Regent’s Park during a routine demonstration on Saturday. Louie has been given a full health check by vets and is well – he’s enjoyed a breakfast of mice this morning.”
She added: “Zookeepers maintained a watchful eye on the bird while he was in the park, as he roosted in nearby trees. They used whistles and calls, which Louie is trained to respond to, and his favourite foods to entice him back. Interested passers-by in Regent’s Park were informed of what the zookeepers were doing, with zookeepers being mindful of those enjoying the area, but we are sorry for causing any upset to anybody offended by Louie’s food.”

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