Zoo in flap as squirrel frees bird

The Scarlet Ibis that has escaped from Edinburgh Zoo, seen in Dundas Street
The Scarlet Ibis that has escaped from Edinburgh Zoo, seen in Dundas Street
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A SCARLET ibis is being hunted after it escaped its enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo – with the help of a squirrel.

The brightly-coloured bird disappeared from its enclosure yesterday morning and soon after was spotted three miles away in the car park of a New Town dentist.

It is thought that the opportunity to fly the coop arose after netting covering the bird’s enclosure was chewed through by a squirrel.

Steve Philip, business development manager with Cherrybank Dental Spa on Dundas Street, spotted the bird outside his office window and immediately contacted the RSPB and Scosttish SPCA.

He said: “I was sat at my desk when it caught my eye, there usually wouldn’t be a lot of colour in the car park. At first I thought it was an ornamental feature but then it moved.

“I couldn’t believe it because it’s such a bright distinctive red colour. It certainly brightened up my afternoon.

“Folk from the SSPCA and the zoo have made a number of attempts to net it to no avail. One of the guys from the zoo told me how surprised they were that it had survived and not been attacked and killed by the seagulls. Hopefully they’ll recapture it eventually and return it to its enclosure.”

Darren McGarry, head of animals at Edinburgh Zoo, confirmed yesterday that the animal had escaped and said all efforts were being made to recapture it safely.

He added: “A small hole in the netting over the top of the enclosure was apparent this morning, so we think a squirrel must have chewed through it overnight. The ibis has obviously decided to make an escape and fly into the centre of Edinburgh to see what all the fuss is at this time of year.

“In all seriousness though, we are a bit concerned about the bird as it is so brightly coloured and could be attacked by other native birds due to its unusual colouring. We’re also extremely surprised that it flew so far – three miles in total.

“Together with the SSPCA, our bird team have come close to capturing the bird a few times, but we haven’t had success yet.

“They’ll return again early evening for some more attempts and will continue trying until it gets dark, then again tomorrow morning. The best way to catch the bird will be when it comes down on its own or gets hungry.”

Eight mates

Edinburgh Zoo has eight scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber): four males and four females. The flock of scarlet ibis shares an enclosure with the Chilean flamingos.

The bird is generally found in South America, ranging from Trinidad and Tobago down through Venezuela to Brazil, living in fresh and salt-water marshes and swamps. It is the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago.

The scarlet ibis is so named due to its bright colour which is produced by the shellfish it eats. It has a long curved bill which aids it in hunting for food in the water and also allows it to clean its feathers.