Delayed by ongoing rocket fire, a long-eared owl injured by a mortar attack last Thursday has finally reached an Israeli animal hospital in an attempt to save its life.
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The vets are hopeful the bird, despite grave head injuries, will make it. "He's eating beautifully. And he attacked his doctors, which is wonderful," enthused Sagit Horowitz, spokeswoman of the Ramat Gan Safari Park, which co-owns the animal hospital.
The young owl had been hit by shrapnel in an attack on Nirim, a kibbutz in the Eshkol Regional Council. He fell from the tree to the ground and coincidentally, was noticed lying there some minutes later by Ben Itay, a member of the kibbutz – and a veterinary student.
Not that Itay needed medical training to notice that the bird had suffered injuries to his face and to an eye. At that point he couldn't leave the kibbutz because of the frequent rocket barrages on the area, explained the park's Sagit Horowitz. So he brought the injured owl home in Nirim and cared for it over six days, treating it with feedings and fluids until having the chance to take it north – to the Israeli Wildlife Hospital of the Safari and Israel's Nature and Parks Authority.
The doctors immediately evaluated the owl's condition with a series of x-rays and determined that there's a piece of shrapnel between the right ear and the eye.
"The doctors suspect [that the shrapnel] is pressing on his optic nerve," said Horowitz. The orb is intact, but apparently the owl has gone blind in that eye.
Still, his eye remains low priority compared with his other head injuries. At this point the hospital is waiting for his condition to stabilize further before operating to remove shrapnel. Until all that can happen, the vets covered his bad eye on Thursday. The concern is that the eye could become dehydrated and lead to irreversible damage, Horowitz explained.
He might not make it, but the doctors are feeling encouraged by the young owl's feisty demeanor and evidence that he's perfectly aware - he knows what's going on around him, says Horowitz. His attempt to savage the medical team is a heartening sign.
And what next? "It's true that his condition is bad but we've had badly injured animals, who've been shot, and who survive and manage to return to the wild," says Horowitz. "Here the starting point isn't good but we've had birds that, after long rehabilitation, suddenly start to pick up and come back to themselves."