Giant owl not seen for 150 years, spotted in the wild

With only a few thousand thought to be in existence, Shelley’s Eagle Owl is classified as being at risk of extinction.

Shelley's Eagle Owl was last spotted in the 1870s
© Doctor Rob Williams/@robsrw
Shelley's Eagle Owl was last spotted in the 1870s

A giant owl, that was last sighted in Africa’s rainforests in the 1870s, has been spotted in Ghana’s Atewa forest. British scientists currently working in Ghana photographed the Shelley’s Eagle Owl on October 16.

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Could that be an Eagle?

This species of owl has been officially classified as being at risk of extinction, with only a few thousands believed to be in existence.

A picture of the bird was taken when Dr Joseph Tobias of the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, and Dr Robert Williams, an ecologist from Somerset, chanced upon it during its daytime roost.

They had only seen the bird for about 15 seconds but managed to take several pictures of it. Its distinctive black eyes, yellow bill, and huge size gave it away.

Dr Tobias said:

It was so large, at first we thought it was an eagle. 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.

Sensational Discovery

Until now, the bird was last sighted in 1872 when it was first described after the curator of the bird collection at the Natural History Museum, obtained a specimen from a hunter in Ghana.

Dr Nathaniel Annorbah, of the 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 ridge top forests of the eastern region is a huge surprise.

The forest in which it was spotted is the site of continued illegal logging and bauxite mining.

It is hoped that with this discovery, the forest would be given a national park status to protect endangered species such as this owl. Dr Williams said:

We hope this sighting draws attention to Atewa forest and its importance for conserving local biodiversity. Hopefully, the discovery of such a rare and magnificent owl will boost these efforts to save one of the last wild forests in Ghana.
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