A RARE owl stolen in Poole has probably already been sold off on the black market, say the owners who hand-reared it.

Thieves broke through a seven-foot gate at Wessex Bird of Prey Rescue’s home in Canford Heath to make off with Leona, a two-year-old long eared owl, and more than £1,500 of equipment in the early hours of Monday morning.

Two other birds in the same aviary were left unharmed during the attack, so centre owner Jon Hall says he fears Leona, one of their flying display birds, has been stolen to order.

The theft of radio transmitters and generators means the remaining birds can’t be flown at upcoming displays.

Mr Hall, who has run the centre for 10 years, said: “I was just devastated when I saw Leona’s empty perch.

“Never mind about the value lost – it’s the amount of time you put into training the birds to fly.

“When you’re hand feeding naturally you get very attached to the birds and it really upset my wife Terri, who took Leona in at three days old.”

He added: “To be quite honest I was ready to pack it all in after this.

“This is our busiest time of year and we’re having to go round begging to borrow equipment. As a rescue charity our main income goes on injured old birds – we don’t want to spend it on replacing radios.

“We save up to see us through the winter months, but this is going to leave us in a bit of a state.”

A padlock and Leona’s leash were cut during the attack, but Dorset Police found no fingerprints.

There is only one captive breeding pair of long eared owls in the UK.

Mr Hall suspects the owners of a mating pair somewhere on the continent have recently lost a female and paid someone to take Leona.

Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call Dorset police on 01202 222 222.