April 4, 1998
by Jonathan Leake

The environment has bitten back. John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, was left squawking with pain yesterday after he was nipped by a rare parrot at a summit of environment ministers.

Prescott was posing for photographers with Chuckie, a red-headed macaw, in the aviary at Leeds Castle in Kent when the bird lunged at him, seizing his finger.

Prescott let out a loud yelp and tried to shake the bird off, but Chuckie was not impressed and hung on until pulled away by a keeper. The photo shoot is understood to have been set up between The Sunday Telegraph and Labour spin doctors to emphasise the government's credentials in caring for wildlife.

Macaws' beaks are among the most powerful of all birds' because they are designed to break open nuts and seeds - they can generate forces of up to 340lb per square inch. Prescott, however, escaped with just a bruise.

Later his advisers gamely tried to turn the embarrassing incident to the deputy prime minister's advantage. "He showed true Northern grit," said one. Prescott himself was unwilling to comment beyond a terse: "That's wildlife for you."

The conference of ministers from the world's most powerful countries continues today, when ways of halting wildlife crime will be discussed.

Tony Blair told an economic summit of European and Asian leaders yesterday that Europe will "stand by Asia in its hour of need" over its deepening financial crisis.

The united image was later shaken by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's prime minister, who blamed the crisis on the West and its currency speculators.

Copyright 1998 The Times Newspapers Limited.

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