The elusive Shelley’s eagle-owl is considered the ‘holy grail’ for bird watchers in Africa and across the world, and has lurked almost unseen in African rainforests for 150 years.
But British scientists, Dr Joseph Tobias and Dr Robert Williams, hit the jackpot after managing to capture photographs of the majestic bird while working in Ghana earlier this month on October 16.
While visiting the Atewa forest, the pair saw the bird perched for 10-15 seconds, but managed to quickly take photographs of this rare beauty in the short space of time.
“It was so large, at first we thought it was an eagle,” Dr Tobias said as per Imperial London College. “Luckily it perched on a low branch and when we lifted our binoculars our jaws dropped. There is no other owl in Africa’s rainforests that big.”
They confirmed the identification due to its distinctive black eyes, yellow bill, and huge size, and the fact that such a massive predator has become invisible throughout Africa sparked interest regarding its rarity and whereabouts.
According to Eco Watch, there has been no confirmed photographs of the species for decades, while the photographs in existence were reportedly taken in 1975 – showcasing grainy images of a captive bird at Antwerp zoo. A pixelated blob from Congo also surfaced in 2005, which proved to be the incorrect species, Imperial London College adds.
Dr Nathaniel Annorbah of University of Environment and Sustainable Development, Ghana, said: “This is a sensational discovery. We’ve been searching for this mysterious bird for years in the western lowlands, so to find it here in ridgetop forests of Eastern Region is a huge surprise.”
So why does the Shelley’s eagle-owl fly under the radar? Huff Post explains that the Atewa Range Forest Reserve faces various threats relating to habitat destruction, logging and commercial mining for bauxite.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the birds as “vulnerable,” and because of this, a conversation organisation cited the owl on Twitter as yet “another reason” to protect the forest.
When we say the Atewa Forest is a Crown Jewel of #Biodiversity, we really mean it.
After 150 years, this owl has been spotted in the Atewa Forest. Here’s another reason to #SaveAtewahttps://t.co/E7Fd1pNQP8
— A Rocha Ghana (@arochaghana) October 22, 2021
As mysterious as the sighting of this crowned jewel is the sight thousands of dead Cape Fur seals washing up on the shores of Shelly Beach, Elands Bay and Lamberts Bay. There’s no explanation as to how they died, however, scientists believe that there may be something more sinister at play.
We’ve also seen this after multitudes of penguins were found dead inside the Boulders African penguin colony in September. After the post-mortems were conducted, it was revealed that all of the penguins had several bee stings which was further evident by the many dead bees that were found at the site.
Picture: Dr Robert Williams