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from This Is London

    Vulture may head for London

22 June 2001

by Ed Harris and Danielle Demetriou

Ruppell VultureFoster the flyaway vulture could be heading for London today. The fearsome creature, which has an eight-foot wingspan, appeared in a sleepy Norfolk seaside village, but has now vanished - and may be attracted by warmer weather in the Home Counties.

The largest bird seen in Happisburgh is normally a turkey. So the residents were alarmed when Foster appeared, soaring above the high street and casting a giant shadow. He had made his break on Monday during a falconry display at Banham Zoo in Norfolk, 50 miles from Happisburgh, and has resisted all efforts to capture him.


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Experts believe the vulture has been riding on the strong thermal currents rising from the plains of East Anglia and with his huge wingspan he could cover hundreds of miles in a day. With weathermen forecasting a hot weekend, the bird could easily sweep across country to London and the Home Counties, where the weather is expected to be hottest.

The giant African Ruppell vulture arrived in Happisburgh three days after its escape and settled in a 60ft-pine beside the post office. He brought the village to a halt as residents, ornithologists and a coach party of visitors from Derbyshire craned their necks for a glimpse. One resident put out roast lamb and a pork chop.

However, shortly after staff from the west Norfolk zoo arrived and tried to tempt Foster with pieces of meat, he vanished. Foster is one of eight Ruppell vultures at the zoo. The species is the highest-flying bird in the world, capable of soaring up to 37,000 feet - higher than a transatlantic jet and well out of sight of the ground - making it difficult to locate.

It was Happisburgh's vicar, birdwatcher Richard Hines, 52, who identified Foster using his ornithology books. "The whole of Happisburgh ground to a halt. People could not believe their eyes," he said. "When it took off it was absolutely spectacular. It

was mobbed by jackdaws and crows, which were clearly upset and buzzing around it." Malcolm Kerby, 60, a retired marketing director, said: "I went to the village store at 12.30pm and this thing was soaring above me. I was absolutely staggered."

A zoo spokesman was keen to allay fears that the bird, which has a black body and distinctive white head, was likely to carry away animals or children.

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds described the Ruppell as a "scavenger" that feeds off dead rabbits, foxes and badgers. "It is very unlikely it will kill or attack anything. They are no danger to children cats or dogs."

As Foster disappeared inland, Gary Batters of Banham Zoo urged people not to feed him, as staff would attempt to recapture him using pieces of meat. "Vultures do have the ability to starve themselves for long periods and as food will be used to recapture Foster, it is important the public do not feed him."

One of the most memorable of zoo escapees was Goldie the Eagle, which caused chaos and stopped traffic for days in the capital after fleeing from London Zoo in 1965.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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