In Depth

Owl cafe opens in London: a hoot or just plain cruel?

Animal rights groups say the event will cause a considerable amount of stress to the reclusive birds

150410-owl.jpg

A cafe populated by owls has opened its doors at a secret venue in London, despite fierce opposition from animal rights campaigners who say the event is cruel and unethical. 

The week-long event aims to educate people about owls and was originally due to be held in Soho last month, but had to be moved to an unnamed location after threats from activists. The event proved hugely popular and was oversubscribed within hours of its launch.

petition to have the pop-up event cancelled has been signed by almost 30,000 people, who argue that the event will cause a considerable amount of stress to the birds involved. 

The RSPCA says it has serious concerns about the event. Owls are shy animals that "generally don't like to be handled or stroked and can find this very stressful," the charity's wildlife scientist Dr Ros Cubb told the BBC.  

Activists are encouraging owl lovers to visit reputable conservation centres where they can view and enjoy the birds in their natural environment, instead of a crowded bar. 

Dr Gordon Mellor, chairman of Hawk Board, the organisation which represents bird of prey keepers in the UK said he was also worried about the event.

"My concern with the cafe is the emphasis still feels like it's on entertainment rather than education," he said. "Held inside a cafe of whatever dimensions sounds a little-bit circus-like."

The event's organiser, Seb Lyal, said that it would be a unique opportunity for Londoners to be exposed to wild birds of prey. "Their welfare is our highest priority and the handlers are in control at all times," he insisted.

Money raised from the event is going to an unnamed owl conservation charity, and Lyal says he is making a loss from the event.

Guests were allowed to handle the birds with gloves, but were not allowed to stroke them or use flash photography, says the Evening Standard's Alexandra Rucki, who attended the opening.

"[The owls] seemed to have no qualms with the audience and took it in their stride," she said, although one of the birds escaped from its handler and flew into a picture frame.

One ticket holder said he was excited to get a chance to interact with the animals, though he was "hoping people don't think it is an excuse to get drunk and take a selfie with some owls for a few Instagram likes".

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