A £35,000 eagle chick has been bred in captivity for the first time in Scotland.
The Verreaux’s eagle, which originates from Africa, is a “nightmare” to breed and worldwide attempts have failed time and time again.
Only one institution in England – the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) – has successfully hatched a chick in captivity.
At midnight on Wednesday, dedicated workers at Elite Falconry in Fife made history when they helped a tiny chick break free of its shell.
But the long-anticipated birth almost ended before it had even began – when faulty equipment began to refrigerate the animal slowly to death.
The process began when five years ago, Barry Blyther invested thousands of pounds in purchasing a pair of Verreaux’s eagles from Africa.
After a long wait, the pair eventually produced two eggs earlier this year after breeding in their specially-built aviary.
Unfortunately the parents accidentally broke one egg, at which point the remaining one was removed and put into an incubator for 20 days.
When it began to show signs of hatching it was moved to a brooder for the final stages – but unknown to the falconers the machine was faulty and was 13 degrees Fahrenheit colder than necessary.
After several days of puzzlement, Barry checked the temperature and was shocked to find that they had been accidentally chilling the animal.
He immediately moved it to another brooder, and shortly afterwards helped the chick break free of its egg.
Barry said: “We noticed that the egg wasn’t making the progress it needed in the brooder, which was when we realised something was wrong.
“After checking all the readings it became clear the equipment was faulty – and the chick was chilling to death.
“Because of this, the egg hadn’t made the progress it needed to hatch, and so I had to help it along the way by slowly breaking pieces of the egg off.”
Luckily, the animal was born without incident and has since been thriving off chopped-up mice.
Barry and his partner, Roxanne Peggie, have been feeding the chick every three hours to boost its growth before it is reunited with its parents on Sunday.
The sex of the chick will not be known until it is full-sized at 12-weeks old.
If it is a female, it could potentially grow to weigh 15lbs and have a wingspan reaching an impressive 7.7 feet.
Barry said: “The reputation these birds have for breeding in captivity is that it’s virtually impossible – but no one seems to know why that is.
“We’re delighted for the birds as a species that we have managed to do this, and we can help breeders across the world by sharing information.
“We’re not a big breeding facility and all of our money goes towards the animals. If you add up the cost of building the aviary, buying the parents, and all of the extras, this chick is a £35,000 investment.
“It makes it all worth it when something like this happens. No amount of money in the world will separate me from this chick now.”
The Verreaux’s eagle, also known as the black eagle, prey on rock hyrax’s – large mammals that can weigh up to 13lbs – in the wild.
They are a similiar size to the Golden eagle and are notorious for having huge feet, which help them hunt their large and difficult quarry.
In Africa the total population is estimated to be in the tens of thousands, and their biggest threat is habitat loss.