By Aliki Kraterou
A 6ft rhea dubbed Linford after running wild on a prestigious golf course has been captured and taken to a new home – where zookeepers discovered he could actually be a GIRL called Linda.
The ostrich-like flightless bird, named after Linford Christie because of his ability to reach speeds of up to 40mph, took up residence at Evesham Golf Club in Evesham, Worcs, last October after escaping from his owner’s home in nearby Harvington and travelling five miles by road.
Green staff only became aware of Linford’s new home when they spotted his unusual footprints in the bunkers and though many attempted to catch the bird, no one had succeeded.
But after the 25-week-old feathered friend started chasing golfers, staff made the decision to catch Linford once and for all by luring him into a pen with fruit before rehoming him at Noah’s Ark Zoo in Wraxall, Bristol.
Zookeepers there were pleased by the ‘lucky coincidence’ as they had spent a long time looking for a partner for male rhea Willow – and they now believe the animal could in fact be a female called Linda.
Chris Wilkinson, a curator at Noah’s Ark, said: “Linford was starting to become aggressive and chase the golfers.
“We thought it might be hard to capture him, but we knew he liked fruit so we lured him into a small pen using this.
“Due to the fact that he wasn’t eating any proper rhea food, he is very small for his age – making us think he could in fact be female.
“Linford will have to be a good neighbour too – he will live next to a giraffe and some South American spectacled bears.”
Zookeepers said they are unable to distinguish if Linford is definitely female until the results of a feather test come back in several weeks.
But they said the lack of proper food at the golf club had made him small for his age – something which made them suspect he could be a girl.
Regardless of gender, Linford is now reaching maturity and is at an age when he – or she – will soon need to mate.
Linford’s owner, Amy Gardner, who has lots of other animals including two rheas, had originally said the 124-year-old Evesham Golf Club could take honorary ownership of her pet for as long as he wanted to stay.
Staff at the nine-hole course have now even changed the name of hole seven – currently known as the Linford hole – in his honour and are planning to hold an annual Linford trophy competition to remember their unusual mascot.
Ryan Cleary, assistant professional at the golf club, said: “We were unsure on Linford’s wellbeing and how he would cope with the freezing conditions as there is less vegetation now out on the course.
“It will be sad to see him go but long term he needs to find a mate and a better feeding system – the zoo will look after him and make sure he is healthy.
“Experts said there is no way of telling by looking at a rhea if it’s a male or female so they will take a feather and test it – but it could end up our Linford is actually Linda.
“We always just assumed he was male, but who knows.”