Owl stolen from Wimbledon and Putney Commons in suspected targeted attack 

A tawny owl has been stolen from Wimbledon and Putney Commons.

Merlin, who is nearly 30 years old, has lived in a locked aviary in a stable yard on the commons since 2017 and was cared for by a specialist team until Saturday.

Angela Evans-Hill, who was working as duty officer on the night of his disappearance, said that a mountain keeper duty had gone in to feed him on Saturday evening when he discovered him missing. 

She said: “The person on shift radioed me to say we’ve got a problem, Merlin’s not here.

“He’s just not the kind of bird who would have tried to escape. It does seem like he was targeted.”

After searching the surrounding area, the team ruled out the possibility of Merlin, a smaller owl with a unique crossed beak, escaping himself or being attacked by an animal.

Merlin’s aviary was locked and there was no damage to the surrounding yard or animals.

Pam Broughton, zoo director at The Owl’s Trust in Llandudno, North Wales, believes that given the popularity of UK tawny owls and that February is their breeding season, anyone who stole Merlin with the goal of making profit would likely only make £30. 

Alternatively, if an individual has released Merlin as a perceived humanitarian deed, both Broughton and Evans-Hill believe that his chances of survival are minimal. 

Evans-Hill said: ‘They’ve given him a death sentence really because he’s not going to survive. He couldn’t hunt for himself and can’t fly far.”

In a public appeal published on their website last Sunday, Wimbledon and Putney Commons said: “Please please please, if anyone knows anything about his disappearance, we implore you to get in touch. 

“We are just desperate to get him back safely.”

Angela Evans-Hill spoke of the distress that the team who cared for Merlin are feeling given his disappearance. 

She said: “These birds become part of your family. 

“We are all shocked and devastated, it’s just awful not knowing what’s happened to him.”

Merlin was kept in captivity for his lifetime, spending the first 18 years of his life at London Wildcare Centre, later Riverside Animal Sanctuary, before transferring to the commons 12 years ago. 

Pic of red and white flowers on Wimbledon and Putney Commons.
TWITT TWOO’S DONE IT: Meadow Garden on Wimbledon and Putney Commons (Credit: Wimbledon and Putney Commons)

As a bird imprinted with a human, he is tame and incapable of looking after himself in the wild, meaning he could not be released. 

The population of tawny owls in the UK is increasing, with at least 11 breeding pairs recorded in 2019, including two in Central London parks, according to data by London Wildlife Trust.

The charity is currently working on an ‘Owl Prowl’ campaign, encouraging individuals across London to submit their owl sightings to aid their future data. 

To own a tawny owl in the UK a license is not required, however you must have the paperwork to prove that the owl was bred in captivity from captive bred parents. 

The Met Police were contacted regarding the disappearance, however, the case has been closed due to a lack of evidence.

Anyone with information regarding Merlin’s disappearance is encouraged to get in touch with Wimbledon and Putney Commons on 020 8788 7655, or via email – [email protected].

Featured Image Credit: Wimbledon and Putney Commons

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