Rare owl flies again af­ter a dou­ble wing trans­plant

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Nick Hard­ing lant. st nd pair. nd oun­dat r wn t he he g, f out d. ea t

A RARE owl badly in­jured in a road ac­ci­dent has been given the gift of flight af­ter a dou­ble wing trans­plant.

The in­jured lit­tle owl had lost sev­eral of its vi­tal flight feath­ers, and oth­ers were dam­aged be­yond re­pair. It would have per­ished in the wild.

A mem­ber of the pub­lic found the bird flap­ping around on the ground and took it to the Wildlife Aid Foun­da­tion (WAF) in Leather­head, Sur­rey, where vet Maru Urbina re­built both the owl’s wings by graft­ing donor flight feath­ers from a dead owl into the empty feather shafts.

The de­tailed pro­ce­dure is known as im­p­ing and is rarely car­ried out on wild birds. Feath­ers used from the donor wing were matched to the cor­rect lo­ca­tion on the live wing, each be­ing care­fully cut and an­gled be­fore be­ing at­tached with sur­gi­cal glue. Wire was also used to cre­ate ar­ti­fi­cial spines to make graft­ing eas­ier.

Lit­tle owls are rare in the UK, with just a few thou­sand breed­ing pairs re­main­ing af­ter a dra­matic pop­u­la­tion de­cline over the past 50 years due to habi­tat loss and farm­ing prac­tices.

WAF is one of the few con­ser­va­tion char­i­ties in the UK that has a fully equipped and staffed 24-hour wildlife emer­gency cen­tre. Af­ter the op­er­a­tion, the bird spent a day re­cov­er­ing be­fore be­ing suc­cess­fully re­leased.

Si­mon Cow­ell, the WAF’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, said: “The pro­ce­dure we car­ried out was very del­i­cate and without it, the owl would not have sur­vived. Im­p­ing is usu­ally car­ried out on cap­tive birds of prey. We took the idea and de­vel­oped it to help a wild bird. It was a com­plete suc­cess.

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