Farmer takes 100 owls under his wing

Makhanda plot is turned into a rescue and rehabilitation centre

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Chris Pretorius and his family had no idea that their Makhanda farm would be turned into an owl rescue and rehabilitation centre when an African spotted eagle owl showed up on their farm almost 12 years ago.
Uiltjie, or The Caring Owl, as he is now fondly known, made himself at home on the family farm and soon adopted Pretorius’s entire family, including their geriatric cat.
“It all started with Uiltjie in 2007 and it just grew from there. It became my absolute passion. It’s amazing to see a small owlet with all the odds against it, rehabilitated successfully and released back into the wild,” said Pretorius.
“Uiltjie had been hand-reared and he didn’t know how to hunt when he came to us. He had been around people for so long he thought he was also a person so he started presenting us with rodents each night and adopting us, something owls do for their mates in nature.”
Over the years almost every injured or orphaned bird taken in by Pretorius has been adopted by Uiltjie.
Rescuing and rehabilitating about 100 birds, Pretorius has worked with seven of the nine owl species found in the Eastern Cape, including the common barn owl, spotted eagle owl, giant eagle owl, scops owl and Cape eagle owl.
“At one stage, before I had an aviary, we had about 15 owls in the owl room in our home. They would all sleep inside,” said Pretorius, who has 38 owls on his farm at the moment.
Giving a presentation at the Beacon Bay Country Club at the weekend, Pretorius shared his many tales of nursing injured, abandoned and mistreated birds back to health while stressing the importance of protecting owls.
From a blind spotted eagle owl named Tokkelosh to a small scops owl that suffers from epileptic seizures, Pretorius has helped to transform many hurt and fragile birds into strong feathered friends.
“I saved Tokkelosh from a sangoma who had hung him upside down on a washing line with a piece of wire and beat him repeatedly on the head,” said Pretorius.
“Because of the beatings his optic nerves are badly damaged and he cannot see at all anymore. He had a very rough start, but he can still do a lot of things despite not being able to see,” he said.
“Many people think that owls are bad omens and harbingers of death. Because of this they are often hurt or killed and they are also used for muti.”
Tiny, a scops owl, the smallest of the owl species found in South Africa, is a feisty little bird weighing 100g. She had fallen out of her nest as an owlet and was found by a local vet.
Never has the Shakespearean phrase “though she be but little, she is fierce” been more applicable as Tiny has made it her mission in life to adopt orphaned barn owlets who are four times her size.
“Tiny started out as a weak and fragile little bird, but now she is always prepared to defend the owlets she rears with her life. In nature, barn owls are known to prey on scops owls because they are much smaller, but Tiny holds her ground and has also never had a seizure while looking after the owlets,” said Pretorius.
He said that by sharing his experiences he hoped to inspire a love for owls and that without predators or raptors such as owls, the world would see an infestation of rats and mice.
“They are beautiful creatures and phenomenal hunters.
“They really do us a service in controlling pest populations,” said Pretorius.
For more owl rescue stories and to find out more about Pretorius and his owl rescue centre visit: www.thecaringowl.co.za...

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