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Bird flu menaces British monarchy

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The Tower of London's famous ravens have been locked up in a bid to isolate them from the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza that is sweeping the world.

Rest assured though, the ravens enjoy an immune boosting diet of blood-soaked biscuits, boiled eggs and cod liver oil.

Legend has it that when none of the birds are left, the kingdom is in peril - at one point during the Blitz all but one died "of fright". Now Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster Derrick Coyle has been forced to quarantine his six royal charges in specially built aviaries within the Norman fortress.

The ravens shouldn't mind much. Coyle told the BBC last year: "I have a great relationship with the birds."

Bird flu has yet to be confirmed in either wild or captive species in the UK - the nine suspicious swans reported across Britain over the weekend have all tested negative for the disease.

Edgar Allen Poe clearly foresaw the whole interminable bird flu crisis in the classic poem 'The Raven':

"'Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! - Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted - On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore - Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!' Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'" ®

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