A runaway flightless bird which escaped its enclosure almost two months ago has been shot dead and will reportedly be turned into gourmet sausages.
The rhea was killed by a single shot to the head by a gamekeeper in Hertfordshire over fears it could have proven a danger to drivers by straying onto the main road.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the bird named Rita - which escaped from its private owner's enclosure on March 15 - was killed by Stuart Howe, who told the newspaper the meat would be turned into sausages.
But its owner Jo Clarke said there was "no need to shoot her".
"She was never going to hurt anyone. All this stuff about them ripping a man’s arm off with their claw is nonsense. They are very shy and like to eat weeds. She would just have run away if you approached her," she told the paper.
The 6ft bird, which is indigenous to South America, had become a familiar site to users of the Barkway Park Golf Club near Royston.
However, capturing the bird was rendered difficult by its high speed and a safety warning that the female rhea, which had been dubbed Chris after singer Chris Rea, had sharp claws capable of disembowelling a person.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Howe, who is a deer manager, said it was better a professional marksman brought down the bird, rather than have it risk a slow painful death at the hands of an ill-equipped amateur.
He added his primary concern had been people's safety.
Howe, who shot the bird in a field near the golf club on Monday, said: "I suppose some people might say it is a shame the rhea is dead but it would be terrible if it caused someone to die in a car crash.
"I saw the rhea near the roadside at one point and it would easily have caused a car to swerve and hit a tree.
"What's the life of a bird against the life of a person or family?
"The police wanted it out of the way and there was no way anyone would be able to capture it."
A Hertfordshire Police spokesman said: "Police have received notification that the missing rhea has been lawfully killed near a carriageway in Anstey, as there was fear of it getting onto a main road and causing a collision.
"The owner had previously given permission for the bird to be dispatched if the situation deemed it necessary, which was the case.
"We have spoken to the owner, who is aware."