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Lost and found

In October 2021, a ‘Near-mythical’ owl was photographed in the wild for first time - in threatened forest in Ghana - having not been seen for 150 years.

During an expedition in October 2021 to Ghana’s Atewa Forest – one of the last wild forests in the country – two British researchers discovered the near-mythical Shelley’s Eagle-owl, a species recorded just a handful of times since it was first described in 1872.

The sighting by Dr Joe Tobias and Dr Rob Williams, made on 16 October, is encouraging news for this Vulnerable species, which has been extremely elusive over the past 150 years. Dr Williams’s photos of the bird confirm the identification beyond doubt and are themselves unique.

He told BirdLife: “In total there are approximately 20 museum specimens known, there have been a few in captivity, including one in Antwerp Zoo that was photographed in the early 1970s, and more recently a few sightings – ranging from well- seen, multi-observer sightings to brief single-observer claims. The only adequately documented sighting was a bird seen on four consecutive nights and sound recorded in north Angola. In south Cameroon, a well-observed bird was photographed with a compact camera but the brown blob in the image cannot be conclusively identified. Based on this, we claimed ours was the first field photo.”

Atewa hit the headlines in 2018, when plans to mine bauxite in the forest  were mooted. It again hit headlines in 2021  when the  controversial plans to mine for bauxite received opposition from three global manufacturing companies which would have been major customers. The Atewa case is currently at the High Court of Ghana. The case is at the preliminary stages in the court and the hearing will start once the preliminaries are completed. The discovery of such a magnificent owl should bolster efforts to protect the site.  

Header Image: Shelley’s Eagle-Owl © Rob Williams