Read All About It!: Goldie’s Great Escape
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.