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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 13:42 GMT
Potter sparks pet owl demand
Harry Potter and pet owl
Pet owls are best kept on the silver screen
Harry Potter merchandise may be flying off the shelves, but an animal charity is warning parents not to consider buying the ultimate junior wizard accessory - a pet owl.

Since the release of the blockbuster film, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has received dozens of inquiries to call centres and animal sanctuaries from parents looking for owls.

They have sharp talons and strong feet and can inflict deep puncture wounds

Lucy Clark, RSPCA
But the charity and owl experts say the birds, with six-foot wingspans and sharp beaks and talons, do not make ideal pets.

It is not the first time a film has sparked demand for unusual pets - the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle film sparked a terrapin craze.

RSPCA spokeswoman Lucy Clark urged people not to treat animals as Christmas gifts or toys.

"We have had inquiries from people wanting owls - snowy owls in particular such as the one featured in the film," she told BBC News Online.

"We are concerned by the surge in demand for owls because we don't think they make suitable pets. By their nature they are shy and reclusive birds, preferring to spend time in secluded places."

Owl appetite

Strict European laws govern the keeping of owls in captivity as many are endangered species.

But parents may want to consider the practical and financial cost of owning a bird of prey.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Terrapins from the turtle craze are still being found abandoned
Snowy owls can grow up to two feet tall with a six foot wingspan, and weigh up to two kilos.

"They can be very noisy, especially at night, they have sharp talons and strong feet and can inflict deep puncture wounds," said Miss Clark.

"They also require a regular supply of food such as dead day-old hatchery chicks. But they can eat anything from earthworms to young deer."

The care bill can easily run into hundreds of pounds when you include a flight aviary and specialist veterinary care and attention.

And they can live for 20 years.

Private sales

Campbell Murn, conservation coordinator at The Hawk Conservancy, in Andover, shared the RSPCA's concern.

"Unless they are trained properly they are not going to sit on a perch or a fist," he said.

He said most people who kept owls did so to help with breeding programmes for endangered species.

snowy owl
Snowy owls live for 20 years.
But some are sold privately, often with unfortunate consequences when the bird grows too big or the owner gets bored.

"Unfortunately there will be some pet snowy owls and they are going to end up in poor health or released irresponsibly," he told BBC News Online.

"If people really like owls or want to adopt an owl they can go to a reputable bird of prey centre and see the owl as much as they like."

The problem of taking on unusual pets after a film is highlighted by the terrapin craze.

"Some terrapins are still being discovered in waterways throughout the country," said Miss Clark.

"It is very difficult to find people to take on abandoned terrapins because they grow from the size of a 50p piece to the size of a dinner plate."

When 101 Dalmatians was released animals charities such as the National canine Defence League and Dalmatian Rescue reported a surge in interest for people wanting to adopt a spotty dog.

See also:

23 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Concern over Potter owl mania
07 Apr 00 | Scotland
Turtle mania causes welfare headache
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