Rita’s playing it by rhea!
IPSWICH: It was a little-known species which shot into the public eye with all the mystique and intrigue of a big cat or yeti.
The rhea, a giant South American flightless bird, made the headlines when one of its kind ran loose in the Suffolk countryside for several months.
Fleeting sightings were reported in various locations, including Eyke, near Woodbridge, Campsea Ashe and Marlesford.
There were fears it could cause a crash and there were even rumours it had been chasing people and horses.
It eventually suffered an untimely death after cat-and-mouse efforts to snare it ended in disaster.
But for one Ipswich mother and her daughter, rheas are far from an enigma and have become very much part of the family.
Named Flute and Sweet Pea, their birds measure around 5ft tall and are housed in a pen protected by a 6ft wire fence.
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Rita Cook and her daughter Jodie have kept them in their garden in Belstead Avenue for the past two years.
Ms Cook got in touch after seeing an article about the wild rhea in The Evening Star last month.
She said: “I was surprised to see one of these birds out loose in the wild. They are native to South America and very rare in this country, but maybe their numbers are increasing.
“We’ve certainly enjoyed taking care of them over the past two years. They’re quite low maintenance, really. They don’t make much noise and we only feed them Ostrich pellets. Every now and again one of them provides us with a giant egg. Their eggs are so big that you can easily make an omelette for five or six people out of it.”
Ms Cook added that she had no plans to breed the two birds, saying: “I think two rheas is probably enough for now.”
The wild rhea, which was 4ft 9in and weighed around 90lb, was eventually cornered down a lane near Eyke last month, but died after the RSPCA tranquilised it with a dart.
The RSPCA decided to capture it over fears that it could run on to a road and cause an accident after escaping from an estate near Woodbridge.
RSPCA chief inspector Mark Thompson said at the time: “We were concerned for its welfare because of reports that it was crossing roads.
“It was so big that it could have caused a lot of damage to a car and people might have been injured or killed.”
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