The U.K. Is Weirdly Obsessed With Rhea Birds—Which Keep Escaping Their Owners

A rhea went on the lam in the U.K.—and is far from the first giant, flightless bird to do so

Greater Rhea trio
Greater Rhea trio Pete Oxford/Minden Pictures/Corbis

A giant flightless bird has been fleeing through the English countryside for weeks, after escaping from a farm last month. The bird is a rhea, a South American bird that looks similar to an ostrich. 

The strangest thing about the incident may just be that it's actually not unique, at all. Rhea escapes seem to be a relatively common occurrence in the U.K., making headlines in 2009, 2011, and 2012. This is the second rhea escape to make the U.K. papers this year

One reason for the large number of escapes is that rheas are easily startled. The rhea who escaped last month was startled by a local hunting group. Last July, one rhea was sent into such a panic by a low-flying hot air balloon that it inadvertently killed itself. But the birds are also incredibly difficult to capture. They are large, easily camouflaged, and they can run at high speeds. Complicating matters, they can’t always survive being shot by tranquilizer darts, so owners have to resort to tricky methods to try to lure their birds back home.

From a BBC article about a rhea who escaped in 2012 by jumping over a 4 1/2 foot high electric fence: 

"We've had lots of help trying to catch him, but we soon realised chasing him was never going to be a solution because he can run for miles."

They tried leaving him sedated feed and using recordings of rhea calls to try and catch him, but they did not want to use a dart gun because similar birds have died using that method.

Vinnie was finally caught late on Monday evening by Ben Curtis near his home in Bramford.

He carried the 80lb (36kg) bird home and kept him in his shed until the owner collected him.

Unlike ostriches or emus, rheas are not regulated by the U.K.’s Dangerous Wild Animal Order, making it easier for people to buy or sell the birds. They produce meat and eggs that are considered a delicacy in some areas of the U.K..

But there are only about 1,000 of the birds in the U.K., which explains why someone attempted to steal one last year. The 42 pound bird escaped its would-be captors, and was found just five miles from home. 

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