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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2783

Die-rhea: the plight and tragic end of the flightless bird

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

Rita, the giant South American rhea bird with characteristically long legs and neck, which grabbed the headlines in Britain in recent times, met her tragic end on Friday at the hands of a over-zealous game keeper, who later defended the indefensible by saying that he did it for the sake of motorists – to avoid what he called a ‘car crash’!

Neither the act nor the justification seemed to have cut any ice with the British public – renowned for being great animal lovers. Judging by the comments made in social networks and online newspapers, the British public in general are outraged by the incident.

If Stuart Howe, 65, the gamekeeper who shot the bird, thought of becoming a legend in his own right, he spectacularly failed in his attempt. People started wandering why the interested parties failed to use tranquilizers to subdue the bird in order to hand her back to its legal owner or an animal sanctuary.

The rhea had escaped from a farm enclosure that belongs to Jo Clark, a former page-3-model - a girl who poses topless on page three in the tabloid, the Sun, while putting her vital assets on display – in March this year. According to Ms Clark, her pet rhea escaped when a hunt went past its enclosure, after being spooked by its noise.

Rita, with more than six feet in height, a relatively-large plumage and the top speed at 45 miles an hour, posed a formidable challenge, both to her owner and the authorities, when it came to recapture. Since the area that the rhea could potentially cover turned out to be several square miles, the probability of catching the bird unharmed went down in proportion to the scale of randomness of its sightings.

During her relatively-short period on the loose, some sections of the media played its role in demonizing the creature, while taking the scaremongering to a new height: the six-inch claws of rhea, they used to say, were capable of disembowelling a grown-up man with a kick, if approached from the rear!

This particular section media, however, conveniently ignored the fact that a stubborn horse could cause a similar damage with its hind legs – disfiguring, instead of disembowelling - when approached from the rear, if the animal had been in a bad mood.

Ms Clark, the owner, meanwhile, had assured the public that the bird was harmless and shy, when its presence stirred up anxiety among the public where the bird made its appearance. It had been frequently spotted on Barkway Park Golf Club near Royston, Hertfordshire, England.

There was, however, no evidence to support that the bird had been aggressive towards the public.

On the contrary, those who spotted the bird were in the opinion that it tried to avoid contact with the human beings. Moreover, some of the golfers even enjoyed the presence of the bird, well away from them without being a nuisance.

However, no one may have thought that the 3-year-old pet would appear on the cross-hairs of a rifle of a gamekeeper – in this day and age. Unfortunately, it happened on Friday and the carcass was on display with the wound in the head caused by a single shot.

Mr Howe’s argument of shooting the bird to avoid traffic accident rang hollow, when people hit back by saying that deer could cause the same while crossing roads. “Does that mean that deer should be culled to avoid it?” they argued.

While being fully aware of the public backlash, Mr Howe highlighted the danger posed by the rhea on the loose: 'What’s the life of a bird against the life of a person or family? The police wanted it out of the way and there was no way anyone would be able to capture it,' according to the Telegraph.

With the picture of the dead rhea as a trophy, Mr Howe went public by saying what he intended to do with the carcass; he wanted to make gourmet sausages from its meat!

By saying so, Mr Howe completely ignored the sentiments of Ms Clark, the owner of the rhea and those of millions of animal lovers in Britain – and around the world.

- Asian Tribune -

Die-rhea: the plight and tragic end of the flightless bird
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