The story of a pop-up owl cafe in London’s Soho has been everywhere this past week.
More than 60 000 people have apparently registered for one of the limited spaces during the temporary venue’s week-long run and a huge number of concerned individuals have voiced their concern for the welfare of the birds involved via social media, newspaper editorials and an online petition with 5000 signatures. Even I got in on the act with a blog post.
One of the more surprising parts of this drama was the statement by the organiser that they had the support of registered charity and bird rehabilitation organisation, The Barn Owl Centre. I was not alone in being shocked that a bird protection group would give their blessing to, and agree to receive proceeds from, an event that is far from being in the best interest of owls.
Here is where the story starts to unravel.
The Twitter account for The Barn Owl Centre was inundated by countless tweets ranging from surprise to condemnation. Their response to this onslaught was at first confusing, muddled and aggressive. It didn’t make sense or clear up if they were involved or not.
Fast forward a few days and you’ll find the founder of The Barn Owl Centre featured in an interview with the Gloucester Citizen, the local paper for the area.
In the article, founder Vincent Jones states he wants nothing to do with the pop-up event and feels persecuted by social media activists. You can read the full article here.
Curiously, the Annie the Owl pop-up cafe website still lists The Barn Owl Centre as a partner and fund recipient. This goes against what Vincent stated in his newspaper interview.
I wanted to set the record straight about where the birds for the event are coming from and if the owl centre was still involved. I just ended a 45-minute phone conversation with The Barn Owl Centre founder Vincent and following is some of the information I discovered.
Vincent told me he never agreed to receive money on behalf of The Barn Owl Centre from an owl pop-up cafe. He states he was contacted by organisers on February 19, 2015 and there was a mention of the donation that would be made, but not how it would be raised. Vincent told me, “Of course we need funds desperately, so at first I was positive about any form of donation.”
Come February 23rd, the story blew up in the press (and social media). This is when Vincent says he put a stop to any connection between The Barn Owl Centre and Annie the Owl pop-up cafe.
“It was clear to me, as it was to anybody else working professionally with birds, that this situation went against the best interests of the birds. The organiser has stepped over the welfare line and what he had planned was nothing more than a petting zoo.”
This is when Vincent was able to share his disbelief with the Gloucester Citizen and the February 25th article tried to give the charity a voice in the deafening online throng.
Vincent told me today, “I don’t think the event will go ahead. There is nobody in the field of bird handling in the UK that would support an event like the owl cafe and I’m sure laws and zoo regulations will put an end to it.”
Vincent confirmed, “I am 100% against the owl cafe and if we get a cheque from the organiser, I will set up a camera to capture the act of me tearing it to shreds.”
This is a strong statement when you consider how desperately in need of funds The Barn Owl Centre currently finds itself. They urgently need £10 000 to build aviaries to house 60 unwanted ex-pet birds. Vincent explained to me that birds bred and raised in captivity are not allowed to be released into the wild, meaning these birds need to be rehabilitated and cared for long term.
Vincent wants people to know his centre is 100% against breeding and hopes for a day when the work they do is not needed. Until then, he continues to educate against keeping birds as pets, promotes conservation work and partners with volunteers and professionals all over the UK to protect owls.
“The sanctuaries are full up with unwanted birds and if we start turning owls away due to lack of funds, they end up back in cages in back gardens. The pop-up owl cafe has been the wrong way round from the start. It should be about the birds first. We are not the only people to refuse involvement. A professional bird handler who was asked to help run the event turned it down as soon as the press came out and showed what it was all about.”
Vincent continued, “We work too hard to get involved with this sort of drama. Last year we rescued, rehabilitated and released 200 wild birds and established 4000 owl boxes around the country. This is what we want the public to know about and support, not some owl cafe in London.”
If you want to support the rescue and rehabilitation work carried out by The Barn Owl Centre in Gloucestershire, click here to donate.
You can sign a petition against Annie the Owl bar online here.
I reached out to the organiser of Annie the Owl but have not heard back.