Feathered friend fighting fit, footloose and fancy free

By admin
17 May 2013

Remember Uiltijie, the spotted eagle owl who became a TV star last year? Well, we decided to catch up with him and see how he’s doing.

We wondered what’d happened to Uiltjie, the feathered good Samaritan who crept into TV viewers’ hearts.

So we tracked him down sunning himself on the farm Elandskloof near Grahamstown. The owl became a TV star last year when a video clip of him in the lead role won magazine show Kwêla’s video competition on kykNET. It showed the spotted eagle owl catching food and taking it to sick and injured birds of prey and other animals – as if it remembered what it was like to land up at the animal rehab centre.

A starving Uiltjie arrived at the centre seven years ago after he’d probably escaped from captivity as someone’s pet, says Chris Pretorius who owns the farm where sick and traumatised animals are treated.

The tame owl made himself at home so Chris taught him to hunt by throwing him roadkill birds and dead mice their cats had caught. He also tied Uiltjie’s “prey” to a fishing line and pulled it across the lawn so the little owl could pounce on it.

“After a few months and plenty of patience my efforts paid off. I noticed he was becoming independent and fending for himself.”

About a year after arriving at the farm Uiltjie disappeared. When he reappeared eight days later his right leg and back were so badly injured he could hardly walk.

Superstitious folk had pelted him with stones and hit him with sticks, Chris suspects. The vet wanted to put the bird out of its misery, but Chris, his wife, Elmaretha, and their daughters, Carmen, Maristie and Soné, begged him not to.

It took another year before Uiltjie was well enough to return to normal hunting. In fact he’d made such a remarkable recovery he’d become an expert hunter, regularly bringing his prey home and presenting it to sick and orphaned baby owls. Later he started feeding other birds and even the farm cats with his prey.

Chris captured Uiltjie’s nightly feeding sessions on security cameras, sent the video clip to Kwêla and won a luxury camping vehicle and island holiday – a well-deserved reward for saving Uiltjie’s life.

Chris stresses birds of prey shouldn’t be kept as pets. This is why each time a sick or injured bird of prey is nursed at the farm Chris has to apply for a temporary permit from the department of nature conservation to be able to keep it.

Uiltjie still helps with the rehabilitation of, especially, birds. Over the past two years he’s helped to successfully rehabilitate 15 spotted eagle owls, one grass owl, one marsh owl and a big-eared owl. He even tries to feed the farm’s human inhabitants mice, rats, moles, bats and even snakes.

“He usually sits in the thorn tree down by the dam,” Chris says but today Uiltjie is enjoying the warmth of the sun.

“Spotted eagle owls love the sun,” Chris says, adding that there’s a female owl hiding in the vicinity.

“Uiltjie should be out in the wild and I can only wish that one day he’ll experience the joy of raising his own baby owls with a mate.”

- By Pieter van Zyl

Find Love!