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Wayward eagle owl back in good graces of Point Defiance handlers

Like many a celebrity who’s gotten into trouble, whether Forrest — Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s Eurasian eagle owl — would work in show biz again was unclear last spring.

Fortunately for Forrest and fans of the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater show, zoo officials expect the 10-year-old bird to resume his duties when the program returns in May.

“He’s definitely a visitor favorite,” zoo biologist Sara Mattison, Forrest’s handler, said during an interview last week.

The eagle owl made headlines in April when he flew off during a rehearsal for the Wild Wonders show and failed to return. The bird was supposed to fly a short distance, land on a platform and return to his starting point, but Forrest had other ideas and made a break for it.

Zoo officials issued an all-points bulletin and enlisted volunteers, including members of a local Audubon chapter, to search Point Defiance Park for the wayward bird.

He was found two days later near Fort Nisqually, captured and returned to the zoo.

Mattison said Forrest, who was born in captivity and has lived at Point Defiance since he was 8 months old, was hungry and a bit bewildered.

“Nobody was bringing him his dinner, and he didn’t like that,” she said.

Handlers believe Forrest spooked that day after seeing a show prop that hadn’t been returned to its proper location before he was set to enter. There were questions about whether he’d be able to perform again.

“Anything that’s a little bit out of the norm is hard for him to process,” Mattison said. “Owls are not problem-solving animals. They work on instinct, so any kind of little change in their environment can be a big deal.”

Keepers gave Forrest a break for a couple of weeks after his return before trying him in the show again.

Mattison said they took pains to make sure the set was the same every time.

“We just made sure all the conditions were perfect every time he participated in the show after that,” Mattison said.

So far, so good.

The Wild Wonders show currently is on its regularly scheduled winter hiatus, but Mattison said Forrest will be back to his starring role come May.

“We’re happy to report that Forrest is alive and doing well,” zoo spokeswoman Kris Sherman said.

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