Methuselah the freed eagle faces death sentence

AFTER three decades in captivity – unable to spread her majestic wings – Methuselah was eventually given her freedom. But now after only three years of soaring across Scotland she faces being put down.

The 36-year-old bird has developed a neurological disease that has forced her to give up flight and means she leans crookedly on her perch, and her carers say that they will be forced to put her down unless they can quickly raise £2,000 for an MRI scan.

Staff at Elite Falconry at Cluny in Fife, who taught Methuselah how to fly in 2008, say they cannot afford the cost of the expensive tests to have her debilitating brain condition diagnosed.

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They blame laws banning them from using the eagle for commercial gain for their lack of funds and are calling for a change in legislation. Methuselah could potentially live for another ten years if she is healed.

The centre’s head falconer, Barry Blyther, said: “We think Methuselah has a brain or spinal injury which has forced her to give up flying. It’s devastating to see after everything that has happened to her.

“When she first came here she had a lean when she sat on her perch, but her equilibrium was perfect when we finally encouraged her to fly. She was a picture of symmetry.”

But in the last 18 months, staff at the centre noticed that her lean was becoming progressively worse.

Captured illegally from the wild in 1979, Methuselah was confiscated in the same year and re-homed in the Highland Wildlife Park, where staff kept her in an aviary with a male companion. But when the male died she was re-homed in Yorkshire, where efforts were made to breed offspring using artificial insemination.

After several failed attempts, Methuselah was then re-homed at Elite Falconry, where she was finally given the chance to spread her wings for the first time. Staff taught the 6kg bird how to develop her muscles so she could fly.

But Blyther fears Methuselah will have to be put down within the next two weeks if they cannot come up with the money for her MRI scan.

According to Blyther, the European legislation covering birds of prey is to blame for Methuselah’s imminent demise.

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Visitors are able to pay to see other birds at the centre perform flying demonstrations or go on hunting trips – something Methuselah is banned from taking part in as she has the legal status of a bird taken from the wild.

“For birds like this, the law needs a little modification, Blyther said. “The bird should be allowed to be used commercially to allow the chosen guardian to use the bird to help fund its food, accommodation, vets’ fees, daily care, and perhaps even a breeding partner.”

Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said exceptions should be made in some cases. “The rules protecting wild birds are there for a purpose. It is important that we maintain a strong legal position on this,” he said.

“But this bird was taken from the wild in the 1970s and has suffered as a result.”