A WINDHOEK man woke up to an empty cage on Monday morning after 200 small birds he has collected over more than 30 years mysteriously went missing overnight.
Domingos Mendes Machado (77), who considers himself a bird whisperer, has been collecting and breeding birds as a hobby a few years after coming to Namibia from Portugal in 1966. Speaking to The Namibian from his home in Windhoek West yesterday, Machado, who owns a transport company that ferries goods from South Africa to Namibia, appealed to members of the public for the safe return of his feathered friends.
"I am devastated. Most of these birds grew up here with me; they do not know any other home," he said, adding that they might not survive for long away from home.
The missing birds include lovebirds, budgies and cockatiels which he collected from Namibia and neighbouring Angola, and most of them have lived with him for long periods.
He said he could not believe his two employees when they told him early on Monday morning that they had found the cage empty when they went to feed the birds.
"Sometimes, the cage door has been left open, but the birds have never flown out by themselves before. Somebody stole them," a visibly devastated Machado told The Namibian yesterday.
Machado and his wife, Emily, have opened a case of theft at the Windhoek Police Station.
The couple, who are devoted Catholics and have a chapel in their yard where they hold prayers twice a day, say the singing of the birds heightened their spiritual experience.
Emily said her husband has not been able to eat since the incident.
"They always made him feel good whenever he spoke to them, and he would sit with them and just listen to their singing," Emily said of the birds. "He had formed a very special bond with them."
The Machados believe that their security guard, who has been guarding their property for the last nine years, might be responsible for the birds' disappearance since he had suspiciously resigned a day before the incident.
He has since disappeared, and his phone is unreachable. Emily said they have tried calling pet shops around Windhoek to ask if anyone has tried to sell them birds this week, but with no luck.
"I even went on the WhatsApp groups and contacted our neighbourhood watch group, but to no avail," she added.
"We are appealing to the Namibian public to help us find our birds," said Emily.
Leon Carstens, owner of City Pets at the Baines shopping centre in Pionierspark, confirmed that the Machados called his pet shop on Monday to enquire whether they had seen the birds.
Carstens, who expressed sympathy for the couple, said it was impossible that 200 birds could have flown out of their aviary on their own. He said domesticated birds, or hand-tamed birds, always return to their environment, unlike wild birds.
He noted that it was not possible that the birds could have flown out by themselves at night since most bird species only fly during the day.
"The person who stole them will not sell them at local pet shops because they will be afraid that the owner will recognise them. They will probably sell them in other towns," said Carstens.
Speaking passionately about his hobby, Machado said he has been collecting birds of various species over the years. He got some as gifts from friends, while he bought the others. Despite the missing collection, Machado said he is glad his favourite parrot, named Jacko, was not stolen.
He got Jaco as a gift from a friend. The parrot reacts by playfully kissing him.
"I'm not sure if I will be reunited with my 200 birds. Birds are very expensive, and I do not know if I can replace them," he said.