Rest in Peace, Gladys, Huge Zoo Owl Who Tasted Freedom in Minnesota

Rest in Peace, Gladys, Huge Zoo Owl Who Tasted Freedom in Minnesota
Gladys the Eurasian eagle owl (Graphic: Gizmodo (Photos: Minnesota Zoo/Shutterstock))

A Eurasian eagle owl named Gladys died from injuries sustained in an unknown accident, the Minnesota Zoo said Thursday. Gladys, who had escaped from the zoo earlier this month, was reportedly found on a roadside by a concerned citizen and brought to the zoo. “Our veterinary team responded immediately but, sadly, Gladys had already died,” the zoo said in a statement posted to Twitter.

“We’d like to thank the community for the tremendous outpouring of support and information they provided to aide in the search for Gladys,” the statement read. “The Animal Care team hand-raised her from a chick, and worked with her daily. This is a difficult day for our team.”

Gladys, 5 years old, was one of the Minnesota Zoo’s animal ambassadors, used by the zoo to teach the public about her species. Comfortably one of the largest owl species in the world, Eurasian eagle owls live across northern Europe and Asia. They have bright orange eyes and 2 m wingspans. (For reference, the wingspans of the largest Canadian geese are about a foot shorter than those of these owls.) One zoo worker described Gladys as “the largest owl you’ve ever seen.”

Gladys escaped the Minnesota Zoo in early October during a routine training session that allowed the owl to stretch her wings; instead of returning to her handler, Gladys stayed up in the trees for several days. Zoo officials lost sight of her late last week and asked residents in the local community of Apple Valley to keep their eyes peeled for the bird, noting that she did not pose a threat to humans. Since then, numerous sightings of Gladys were reported, with Twin Cities residents sharing audio clips of hooting on their home security devices as well as photos of birds resembling the giant owl on social media. One person shared a photo on Facebook of an owl that zoo officials said shared “many of Gladys’ traits.” In the image, the owl is seen clutching what appears to be a dead cat.

Though Gladys apparently posed no threat to people, perhaps we posed a threat to her. The zoo did not state what caused Gladys’ injuries. All we know is that, by the time she was found by the roadside, it was too late.

Fly off to that final freedom, Gladys. You truly were an ambassador for your species.