Update: This piece has been updated as it was reported that Gladys died soon after publication.
Upon hearing there’d been a breakout at your local zoo, you might feel a sigh of relief once you found out it was “just an owl,” but as Gladys the escapee Eurasian eagle-owl is proving, these birds are not to be underestimated. After fleeing the Minnesota Zoo during a training session, Gladys has been making the most of her time on the lam having already been snapped grasping what’s reported to be a rabbit, but looks suspiciously like a cat. Unfortunately, life outside of captivity can be difficult to navigate for zoo animals, and after being found injured on the roadside Gladys sadly passed. RIP Gladys, we hope you had a hoot before the end.
Gladys's escape began around a fortnight ago as decided to skip out on a training session at the start of October. As escapes go it was a pretty passive one, with Gladys simply refusing to return from the trees after being let out to get some exercise.
Zookeepers had been keeping tabs on her movements earlier in the month, but after a few days of trying to lure her back with snacks, she went MIA.
“Working in shifts, Zoo staff maintained sight of Gladys in various trees around campus, attempting to encourage her return using food and enrichment objects that Gladys enjoys,” said Zach Nugent, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Zoo, to Gizmodo. “Staff lost consistent sight late last week.”
As owls go, the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) is really something to behold. As the second-largest owl species in the world, topped only by Blakiston’s Fish Owl (Bubo blakistoni), their wingspan can stretch up to two meters (6.5 feet). Their typical diet in the wild consists of voles, lemmings, and rabbits, as well as other birds.
Exactly what had been on the menu for Gladys following her escape was the subject of much speculation, as a rather concerning photo appeared in the comments section of a recent Facebook post from the zoo. The picture showed what looked like a Eurasian eagle-owl sat smugly atop the corpse of a small mammal, whose identity sparked much debate.
“Thanks for your response,” wrote the zoo in reply. “Our team has confirmed that the owl in this photo shares many of Gladys' traits and are responding with a search of the area. The other animal in this photo is believed to be a rabbit.”
While the feet poking out from beneath Gladys are long enough for a rabbit’s, some on Facebook have voiced concerns that the appearance of toe pads and what looks like a tail between the animal’s legs indicates it's more likely a cat. “We think it was a cat,” wrote Chris Bond, who took the original photo.
Unfortunately, Gladys's adventures were to soon come to an end as she was found injured by a member of the public. In a statement released by the zoo on Twitter, it was announced that a veterinary team was waiting to tend to her injuries but she had already passed by the time she made it back to the zoo.
Rest in peace, Gladys!