British scientists rediscovered in Ghana a giant owl that lurks almost invisibly in the African rainforests 150 years old.
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so called Shelley’s eagle owl, whose total length can exceed 60 cm, was first described in 1872 from a specimen obtained from a local hunter in Ghana by Richard Baudler Sharpe, curator of the bird collection at the Natural History Museum in London and founder of the British Ornithologists’ Club.
There have been no confirmed sightings from Ghana since the 1870s, and only a few flashes elsewhere. The only photos found were grainy photos taken in 1975 of a prisoner behind bars at the Antwerp Zoo, and a blotchy patch of Congo in 2005 which is definitely not the right kind.
There have been occasional reports in recent decades from people who believe they have briefly heard or seen Shelley’s Eagle Owl in a few different locations in West and Central Africa, from Liberia to Angola. Most of these sightings are unconfirmed and the species has become the holy grail of bird watchers in Africa and beyond.
All this changed on October 16, 2021 when Dr. Joseph Tobias, of the Department of Life Sciences (Selwood Park) at Imperial College London, and his colleague Dr. Robert Williams,
They visited a forest they came in Ghana and saw a huge bird coming out of its resting place in broad daylight. “It was so big we initially thought it was an eagle,” Tobias said in a statement. “Fortunately, it landed on a low branch and when we raised our binoculars our jaws fell. There is no other owl in the tropical rainforests of Africa of this size.”
The pair saw the bird sitting for only 10 to 15 seconds, but at that time managed to take pictures that confirm identification due to its distinctive black eyes, yellow beak and enormous size, which together exclude all other African forest owls.
The fact that a predator of this enormous size is essentially invisible across a large swath of Africa has fueled speculation about its current whereabouts and the reasons for its apparent rarity.
Shelley’s Eagle Owl is officially classified as critically endangered and has an estimated population of a few thousand individuals. News of its continued existence in Ghana offers new hope for this species.
Although the Otiwa site is threatened by illegal logging and bauxite mining, the highlands still host large areas of evergreen forest. Environmental groups, such as Friends of Atewa, are pushing for the area to be designated a national park.
With information from Europa Press
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