A BIRD of prey that took to the skies for the first time after three decades in captivity is now facing a death sentence.
Golden eagle Methuselah has developed a neurological disease that has forced her to give up flight.
The 36-year-old has spent the last three years soaring across Scotland, but now cannot even rest properly on her perch.
And her protectors claim they will be forced to put the suffering bird down in less than 14 days unless they can raise £2000 for an MRI scan.
However, staff at Elite Falconry in Fife, who taught Methuselah how to fly in 2008, say they cannot afford to have her debilitating brain condition treated.
They blame a legal ban on them using the bird for commercial gain for their lack of funds and are calling for a change in legislation.
The eagle could potentially live for a further 10 years if she is healed.
The centre’s head falconer Barry Blyther said: “We think Methuselah has a brain or spinal injury which has forced her to give up flying. It’s devastating to see after everything that has happened to her. We don’t know what to do.
“When she first came here she had a lean when she sat on her perch but her equilibrium was perfect when we finally encouraged her to fly. She was a picture of symmetry.”
But in the last 18 months staff at the centre have noticed that her lean is rapidly deteriorating.
“Now because of her condition, we’ve had to take the decision to stop flying her because when she closes her wings during descent, she crash lands,” said Mr Blyther.
“It’s horrible. I now have to lean down behind her and pick her up like a child, with her legs tucked in to move her,” he said.
“The smallest gust of wind blows her over from her perch and she just hangs upside down because she can’t get upright.”
Captured illegally from the wild by a woman in 1979, Methuselah was confiscated by the Government in the same year and was re-homed in the Highlands Wildlife Park where staff kept her in an aviary with a male companion.
But when the male died, staff at the park re-homed her in Yorkshire where efforts were made to allow Methuselah to breed offspring using artificial insemination.
After several failed attempts at producing young, Methuselah was then re-homed in Elite Falconry where she was taught to fly.
Mr Blyther says Methuselah will have to be put down within the next two weeks if they cannot come up with the money for her MRI scan.
“We have had several consultations with our vet but we cannot be sure what’s wrong until we send her for a brain scan, which costs a fortune. We just don’t have those kind of funds here.”
According to Mr Blyther, the legislation covering birds of prey is to blame for Methuselah’s imminent demise.
Tourists are able to pay to see other birds at the centre perform flying demonstrations or go on hunting trips – something Methuselah is banned from taking part in.
The legislation came into force under the European Wildlife Trade Regulation Act 1997- designed to prevent animals from the wild being taken captive for financial gain.
Mr Blyther said: “The current law was designed to remove temptation to take birds from the wild, but birds unsuitable for re-release should be treated under a new sub-section.
“The bird should be allowed to be used commercially to allow the chosen guardian to use the bird to help fund its food, accommodation, vets fees, daily care; perhaps even a breeding partner.”
Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said rules needed to be strictly adhered to, but said exceptions should be made in some cases.