African Owl Spotted for the First Time in 150 Years

by Shelby Scott

Since the offset of the Industrial Revolutions centuries ago, humans have completely transformed the ways in which we co-inhabit the planet with Earth’s millions of living creatures. Those changes have resulted in the endangerment and extinction of hundreds of animals. These previously included the elusive African Shelley’s Eagle Owl. However, after 150 years since its last sighting, scientists in Ghana have shared photographic proof that the large bird still exists. Their discovery reveals it inhabits areas of the continent’s rainforests.

Dubbed the “holy grail” for bird watchers, the historic sighting of the owl came courtesy of two accredited professionals. states Dr. Joseph Tobias of the Imperial College London’s Department of Life Sciences and freelance ecologist, Dr. Robert Williams, of Somerset discovered the great winged creature.

The bird aficionados encountered the African owl on October 16th during a visit to the Atewa forest in Ghana. The outlet reports the pair had disturbed the huge bird from its daytime roost, leading to its preceding discovery.

Dr. Tobias said, “It was so large, at first we thought it was an eagle.” And though eagle sightings are much looked forward to, the scientist explained, “Luckily it perched on a low branch, and when we lifted our binoculars our jaws dropped. There is no other owl in Africa’s rainforests that big.”

The owl first saw discovery in 1872. Since then, states there have been no confirmed Ghanian sightings since the 1870s. The outlet further stated the only photos to exist capture the rare bird in 1975 and 2005. The first pictures a captive individual at the Antwerp Zoo. Meanwhile, the more recent photo depicts a “pixelated blob” from Congo. Scientists aren’t even sure the latter is the Shelley’s Eagle Owl at all.

Owl’s Discovery Inspires Greater Conservation Efforts

Now, however, the scientists’ discovery in the Ghanian rainforest offers clear, concise, photographic proof that the rare owl endures. The pair only saw the owl for a couple of seconds. However, their photo, paired with the African owl’s distinctive features, positively identifies it as the African Shelley’s Eagle Owl.

As a whole then, it would appear the scientists’ sighting provided them with the widely-search for “holy grail.”

Meanwhile, professionals have pointed to the birds’ “apparent rarity” as the massive bird remains “essentially invisible” within the African rainforests.

While the bird’s discovery has ignited a load of questions and speculations, the location of this particular individual’s discovery came as a surprise in itself.

Dr. Nathaniel Annorbah of Ghana’s University of Environment and Sustainable Development shared his surprise at the sighting. “We’ve been searching for this mysterious bird for years in the western lowlands, so to find it here in ridgetop forests of [the] Eastern Region is a huge surprise.”

Nevertheless, the Shelley’s Eagle Owl still classifies as “vulnerable to extinction.” The bird’s elusive nature has led professionals to believe only several thousand individuals continue to endure. While illegal logging and mining takes place near the Atewa sight, potential sanctuary remains available in the higher elevations’ larger forested areas.

Environmentalists hope to designate the higher elevations as a national park to help protect the Shelley’s Eagle Owl.