Read All About It!: Goldie’s Great Es­cape

This England - - Contents - Collin Allan

Ama­jes­tic golden ea­gle soars be­tween trees, scat­ter­ing star­tled song­birds in its wake. With im­pos­si­bly long wings its pas­sage ap­pears ef­fort­less. But this is no re­mote, rugged cor­ner of the Scot­tish High­lands but Re­gent’s Park in the cen­tre of Lon­don.

Cran­ing their necks up­wards, hun­dreds of cu­ri­ous of­fice work­ers and tourists have gath­ered to wit­ness the un­likely scene. It is Tues­day, 2nd March 1965 and Goldie, the golden ea­gle, hav­ing es­caped from his Re­gent’s Park Zoo cage on 28th Fe­bru­ary, re­mains at lib­erty.

Af­ter he had flown out of his cage over a keeper’s head, zookeep­ers had im­me­di­ately called upon the Fire Brigade for a more chal­leng­ing task than re­triev­ing cats from trees. As­sis­tance was also re­quested from the Po­lice and RSPCA but as dark­ness fell their com­bined ef­forts had come to nought. They then tried to daz­zle the bird with high-pow­ered beams. Goldie’s intrepid keeper, Joe Mccorry, used a turntable lad­der to inch closer to the bird. Twice he got to within strik­ing dis­tance only for the ea­gle to take flight.

Goldie con­tin­ues his grace­ful flights around the park’s elm trees. When he rests on high branches, amused on­look­ers can be for­given for think­ing that he is play­ing games with his would-be cap­tors. He ap­pears to look down with dis­dain as his keep­ers de­vise and ex­e­cute nu­mer­ous un­suc­cess­ful schemes to end his free­dom. When, for ex­am­ple, zoo of­fi­cials trail horse­meat across the grass to tempt him down, he shows no in­ter­est in the free food.

So many on­look­ers have turned up that free-fly­ing Goldie has be­come a far greater draw than any caged bird. Thank­fully, pram-push­ing moth­ers and au pairs need not worry; they have been re­as­sured that sto­ries of ea­gles snatch­ing ba­bies are pure leg­end. Some of the less well-be­haved chil­dren re­sort to goad­ing Goldie with whis­tles and shouts and even snow­balls.

Tele­vi­sion cam­era crews and na­tional news­pa­per re­porters as­sure Goldie a form of celebrity sta­tus as he pro­vides light-hearted re­lief from the coun­try’s trou­bles. Mean­while, Goldie’s mate, Regina, re­mains in her cage, no doubt ea­gerly (ouch!) an­tic­i­pat­ing the re­turn of her hero.

Goldie, how­ever, seems obliv­i­ous to all the at­ten­tion. Nei­ther does he seem both­ered by the bad-tem­pered squawk­ing of at­ten­dant gulls and rooks. Yet he does take ex­cep­tion to the con­stant yap­ping of a Cairn ter­rier be­low a favoured tree and swoops down to at­tack the an­i­mal; he is de­terred by a lady bran­dish­ing news­pa­pers to dis­tract him.

The public join in the fun by phon­ing in var­i­ous ideas on how the bird could be caught. These schemes in­clude us­ing tape record­ings of his mate to lure him down, archers shoot­ing drugged meat into the

‘Tele­vi­sion cam­era crews and na­tional news­pa­per re­porters as­sure Goldie a form of celebrity sta­tus.’

trees and de­ploy­ing a model ea­gle on the ground to stim­u­late his in­ter­est. But none of the call­ers ad­vo­cates killing the ea­gle. Zoo of­fi­cials re­as­sure the public that the ea­gle’s wel­fare is up­per­most in their minds. “We think we will catch him quite easily when he gets hun­gry,” one keeper claims.

Goldie re­mained free on Satur­day, 6th March, when The Times re­ported that hunger had got the bet­ter of the ea­gle and, no doubt through ne­ces­sity, he had “swooped on a Mus­covy duck on the lake in Re­gent’s Park”. Ear­lier in the day, he had ig­nored a dead-rab­bit bait put down by the keep­ers. The Times also re­ported that Goldie had been ex­er­cis­ing his six-foot­long wing­span by vis­it­ing St. John’s Wood, Lit­tle Venice and Maryle­bone.

His keep­ers were be­com­ing so frus­trated that they con­sid­ered call­ing in the Royal Navy. An of­fi­cer at Chatham naval base claimed he had been asked to pro­vide a net and a cou­ple of linethrow­ing ri­fles.

For his part, Goldie con­tin­ued to en­ter­tain his ad­mir­ers by mak­ing oc­ca­sional flights around the park. At times, the throng be­low num­bered a thou­sand strong, such was Goldie’s newly ac­quired fame. In fact, cyn­ics thought that it was in the zoo’s in­ter­ests to keep Goldie free: at­ten­dance fig­ures at nearby Re­gent’s Park Zoo had rock­eted dur­ing Goldie’s days of free­dom.

But that free­dom came to an end on 10th March. Ac­co­lades for his cap­ture must fall on Deputy Head­keeper Joe Mccorry. As Goldie was about to de­vour a bait of rab­bit flesh, Joe walked up slowly to the bird and grabbed him by the legs. Goldie was taken back to the zoo’s aviaries by car where he was de­clared fit and healthy. Later in the day he was re­united with Regina.

Joe claimed that the ea­gle’s re­cap­ture would have come sooner but for the di­ver­sion­ary tac­tics of sym­pa­thetic mem­bers of the public. Many peo­ple had tried to scare the bird away from its keep­ers by caus­ing a rum­pus.

“They got to him first, flapped win­ter coats and shood and shouted at him,” he claimed. “We were afraid he might fly off al­to­gether.”

Con­se­quently, Goldie’s free­dom had lasted 12 days.

Amaz­ingly, Goldie es­caped again. It oc­curred on 15th De­cem­ber when the free­dom-lov­ing bird squeezed through a nar­row gap in his cage door, dodg­ing the keeper. He flew to a nearby stand of trees and soon re­newed his an­tipa­thy to­wards dogs by swoop­ing down on a spaniel. Luck­ily, the dog es­caped from the ea­gle’s claws.

Jim Dale, the zoo’s pub­lic­ity of­fi­cer, had to dis­count claims that it had all been de­lib­er­ate: “Please don’t say we let him es­cape. It’s bad enough as it is. This bird has got a very high IQ.”

In­deed, the ea­gle seemed able to out­wit many of its chasers. One won­ders what Regina thought of her mate’s sec­ond bid for free­dom. Per­haps she felt un­wanted. Maybe the Duke of Ed­in­burgh’s visit to the zoo (he was Pres­i­dent of the Zo­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety) cheered her up.

Once again, the keep­ers were un­sure about what to do. The Po­lice, Fire Brigade and RSPCA were called out again. Yet keeper Derek Wood re­mained op­ti­mistic. “I think Goldie could sur­vive a month with­out food from us,” he ex­plained. “I am hop­ing that he will be get­ting a lit­tle peck­ish on Fri­day — which is feed­ing day at the zoo.”

By 20th De­cem­ber it was all over. The dead-rab­bit lure had worked again. Goldie had been free for four days but would not en­joy Christ­mas at lib­erty. He would be spend­ing the fes­tive sea­son in a more se­cure aviary.

Dur­ing his two flights of free­dom, Goldie had amused and de­lighted a na­tion. It was no mean achieve­ment for a seven-year-old golden ea­gle.

Snow­don Aviary, at Lon­don Zoo, which was built in 1962.

Goldie re­united with his keeper.

Visi­tors lis­ten to the band in Re­gent’s Park on a very dif­fer­ent kind of day to when Goldie (inset with prey) en­joyed his free­dom. AD­INA TOVY

Dur­ing his 12-day ad­ven­ture, Goldie flew to Lit­tle Venice. MICHAEL DUR­NAN

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