Killer owls which can attack dogs and deer and are threatening other wildlife have been spotted in Scotland.
Eagle owls which can kill deer have been spotted in Scotland
The eagle owls, which can grow to 3ft tall and are not native to Scotland, have been sighted in Edinburgh, Moray and the Black Isle.
Non-native American, Russian and European species have all been seen with the most recent sighting in Balerno near Edinburgh a few weeks ago.
There are fears the owls will greatly reduce native birds and animals.
It has been suggested the aggressive birds are being released into the wild by people who believe they used to live in Scotland until they were wiped out by gamekeepers in the 19th Century.
Another theory is that the owls have escaped from falconries.
The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals warns that anyone caught setting the owls free faces a fine of up to £20,000.
Mike Flynn, of the SSPCA, said: "I heard an escaped eagle owl some years ago plucked a Yorkshire terrier from a street in Perth, so they can quite easily eat dogs."
It is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally introduce any non-indigenous species into the wild.
"The International Union for Conservation and Nature decides whether to give a permit to release birds into the wild," Mr Flynn said.
"They gave permission for ospreys to be re-introduced because they did use to live here before the gamekeepers wiped them out but I can't see them giving out a permit to do this with eagle owls, considering the damage they do."
Duncan Orr-Ewing, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: "There have been sightings of European eagle owls but also others from the US and Russia.
"Evidence that the eagle owls are native to Britain and were here in the first place is weak and tenuous.
"If we introduce species that are not native then it can cause problems with biodiversity and it is illegal to release the birds into the wild.
"They are great birds in the right place but that place is not Scotland."
The eagle owls are bred in captivity and can be bought for as little as £80.
Any sightings of the large birds should be reported to the police.