OPINION: I was just thinking...about the celebrity rhea and man’s thoughtlessness

A rhea like this had been on the loose in Crow country, but has now been killed A rhea like this had been on the loose in Crow country, but has now been killed

Sunday, May 18, 2014
9:03 AM

I was just thinking…about our celebrity rhea.

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Or to be more precise our celebrity ex-rhea. For the unfortunate escapologist has met its untimely fate at the hands of a gamekeeper into whose sights it strayed.

Barkway must rarely have had so much media attention. Whilst not a scrum of the magnitude occasioned by a rare appearance of, say, a lesser spotted Duchess of Cambridge, both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have covered the story with relish since it began.

Relax Hertfordshire, this is not to be a diatribe about the right wing press. But it is interesting that the story appeals to that sector of the media.

What is exercising my grey cells is that there are so many elements of this series of events that are the result of human arrogance and flawed thinking. I surprise myself with how angry I have got about an absolutely avoidable, avian tragedy.

Let us begin with the idea of keeping a huge, flightless, South American native captive on a smallholding on the Herts/Essex border. That the owner was an ex-Page Three girl (now 60, my goodness) adds media piquancy to the tale but perhaps diverts from the question about what the creature was doing there in the first place. It can’t be sensible to dislocate a creature from its natural environment. Even had it been a refugee or rescued creature, someone must have made the decision to import it or breed it just for fun. Perhaps it was bred for the table … but I doubt it.

Next, the idea that it was dangerous. Every piece of copy refers to the threat of its claws. So hyperbolic has been the description of its razor-bladed feet, that one could be forgiven for believing it to be descended from Edward Scissorhands. We are told, a cold chill of gratuitous horror running through the informer’s voice, that it can disembowel a grown man in seconds. Not quite so ubiquitous in the media is the fact that the rhea is a very, very timid bird. It is as likely to disembowel you as it is to fly. The fact that it could disembowel a man doesn’t mean it would ever dream of doing so.

I also worry about a coincidence that reports seem to imply. Our rhea (Rita – for those of an alliterative sense of humour, or Chris – for those who thought of the singer Chris Rea) was finished off with a bullet to the head by an experienced gamekeeper. Not content with precipitating its demise, he then, with a nice line in stirring up the indignation of the pro-rheans, suggested the carcase could become gourmet sausages.

But what was he doing there in the first place? Did he just take a pot shot or had he been lying in wait for it? Perhaps the gourmet sausage factory had put a bounty on its extremely small head. But it seems strange that an expert shot just happened to be in the right place at the right time and was armed with a bullet rather than a tranquilising dart.

The constabulary were concerned about the possibility of the bird causing a car accident. Well yes, a rhea straying onto a road would be a hazard. But it had been at liberty for the two previous months and barely a soul had seen it apart from those who had made friends with it on Barkway Golf Course. Surely, if the police had been that concerned they would have ensured it would not have been left to wander the byways and rural heaths of our beautiful countryside for as long as it did. After all, there is enough local expertise in exotic animal care – at Shepreth and Woburn – to have recaptured it safely.

The whole episode appears to be nothing but a sorry saga of man’s thoughtless exploitation of a species further down the chain. It has echoes of the euthanasia of that unfortunate baby Danish giraffe in Copenhagen zoo. Unusually for me, committed as I am to balance, I am unable to find an alternative point of view on this one.

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