Simon, a tiny, partly blind and flightless owl who was a favorite of New Jersey schoolchildren, has been stolen from a center that nurses injured birds of prey.
The theft, which occurred either late Wednesday or Thursday, has left the longtime director and founder of The Raptor Trust both heartbroken and angry.
Len Soucey told The Daily Record of Parsippany that he fears the Eastern Screech Owl, struck by a car in Bangor, Pa., six years ago, won't survive long beyond the care and confines of the avian rehabilitation center. Staff say the bird has dietary and neurological issues.
The suspect could face both state and federal charges. But Soucey said he would not press charges.
"I just want Simon back. Just bring him back. No questions asked," he said.
"A million kids have met this owl," he said, "and now it's gone."
The center typically cares for birds with an eye on returning them to the wild. But Simon and about 60 other permanent residents have remained on the site full time, too sick or hurt to release.
Center officials say a thief cut open an outdoor cage to take Simon. Had an intruder entered the cage of a bigger, more aggressive bird, "they probably would have lost an eye," Soucey said.
Simon is believed to be only 7 or 8, about middle aged. The Eastern Screech Owl is New Jersey's most common type of owl, with bright yellow eyes and generally measuring 6 to 10 inches long.