Update 10/14/2021: Sadly, zoo officials report that Gladys has died after being found injured near a road. “The Animal Care team hand-raised her from a chick, and worked with her daily,” the zoo said in a statement. “This is a difficult day for our team.” Original article appears below.
A huge owl named Gladys escaped from the Minnesota Zoo earlier this month, and zoo officials need help tracking her down.
Gladys is a 5-year-old Eurasian eagle owl (Bubo bubo), a predatory species that can reach 2.5 feet tall and weigh up to 10 pounds. The owls’ wingspans can be 6.5 feet across, and, to the untrained eye, they resemble extra-large great horned owls with dazzling orange eyes. They are one of the largest owl species in the world.
Gladys decided to leave the zoo in early October. During a run-of-the-mill training and exercise session, she simply opted to stay up in the trees. After hanging around the area for several days, she vanished.
“Working in shifts, Zoo staff maintained sight of Gladys in various trees around campus, attempting to encourage her return using food and enrichment objects that Gladys enjoys,” said Zach Nugent, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Zoo, in an email to Gizmodo. “Staff lost consistent sight late last week.”
Now, zoo officials think the owl may be elsewhere in the 485-acre zoo or possibly in the larger Apple Valley area, a suburb south of Minneapolis. In a Twitter post yesterday, zoo officials reminded the public that Gladys poses no threat to people. According to The Peregrine Fund, the owls are known to eat small rodents, other birds, amphibians, fish, and even insects.
As to how you would recognize Gladys if you saw her, well, here’s how the zoo’s director of animal collections, Tony Fisher, described her to local news station KARE 11: “She would stand out. If you see her, she’s going to be the largest owl you’ve ever seen.”
A Minnesota Zoo Facebook post requesting information about the lost owl received plenty of replies, with local residents reporting sightings, Ring video footage containing owl calls, and other information.
One person shared a photo taken on October 8 of an owl that resembles Gladys sitting on a rooftop clutching a white-bellied mammal. Some commenters said it looked like a cat; the zoo replied saying the animal was likely a rabbit and that a search team would be investigating the area. (Whether you agree with the zoo’s identification likely comes down to whether or not you see a dark gray tail or an upturned shingle between the white legs.)
The recent escapades of Gladys come on the heels of the escape and subsequent capture of Kodiak, a Steller’s sea eagle kept at a zoo in Pittsburgh. Perhaps there’s something in the air that is tempting these birds of prey to seek freedom. If you’re in the vicinity of the Minnesota Zoo and think you see Gladys, you can call the zoo at 952-431-9200 or contact them through their social media.