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A zoo in the UK is hiring people to scare the seagulls away — in an eagle costume


Summer is right around the corner and in the city of Blackpool on the English coast, that means good times at the zoo.

REBECCA REYNOLDS: We have a lot of animals. We have some ambassador species, a herd of breeding Asian elephants, Bornean orangutans. We've just opened up a new Magellanic penguin exhibit.

RASCOE: Rebecca Reynolds is the head of education, conservation and research. The Blackpool Zoo has more than a thousand animals from A to, well, W - from aardvarks to Western lowland gorilla.

REYNOLDS: There's lots to see, lots to do, lots of fun for the family.

RASCOE: Including snacks - burgers, barbecue, even noodles and curries. And all those delicacies are very attractive to one particular animal - one that's not officially part of the zoo.

REYNOLDS: Seagulls are relatively large birds, and they're opportunist feeders with very sharp beaks. So they spot food, and they want it, and they don't have any regard for who has that food, where that food came from or who is going to eat it.

RASCOE: Seagulls are swooping in to steal people's chips. And it's not just human animals who have to watch out for those sharp beaks.

REYNOLDS: They can hear a bucket. They can hear a wheelbarrow. They can spot a zookeeper, so they know where food is going to be. So in some occasions they can take food from our penguins when we're feeding them. Our pelicans - they will eat the fish.

RASCOE: The staff at the Blackpool Zoo has tried and failed many times to keep the seagulls at bay, even flying kites to distract them. But nothing seemed to work. That is, until they decided to fight fire with fire, or rather feather with feather. They hit upon the idea of having a living scarecrow, a scare-gull (ph) - you know what I'm saying. They dressed a staffer in an eagle costume and set them off to chase the seagulls.

REYNOLDS: It actually seems to work. It's great fun for the visitors to enjoy, but as the seagulls, then - they're not in tune with it. They're not aware of it. It is something new. It is proving as a cue to move away.

RASCOE: Now the zoo plans to make that solution permanent, hiring five people as the zoo's official seagull deterrents. It'll pay 10 pounds, 80 pence an hour. That's just under 14 U.S. dollars.

REYNOLDS: What a great job to be outside in a zoological park with some amazing animals, meeting people and helping make their day better.

RASCOE: Rebecca Reynolds says they already have 200 applicants, many of them from outside the U.K. I am not one of them, but I support the effort.

REYNOLDS: We've been inundated, overwhelmed with applications, with some very innovative application forms and CVs to go with it. I think we've had vegetable costumes, fruit costumes, different kinds of animal costumes just to prove that people are very willing to dress up and play the part.

RASCOE: So if you've ever dreamt of flying like an eagle or more specifically running around in an eagle suit flapping your wings, now's the time to take flight. The Blackpool Zoo is still accepting applications.


NELLY FURTADO: (Singing) I'm like a bird. I'll only fly away. I don't know where my soul is - soul is. I don't know where my home is. And baby, all I need for you to know is I'm like a bird. I'll only fly away. I don't know where my soul is - soul is. I don't know where my home is. And all I need for you to know is - your faith in me... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.