The pandemic posed a greater challenge for the workers - to keep the ravens entertained
London: Chris Skaife has one of the most important jobs in Britain. As Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, he is responsible for the country’s most famous birds. According to legend firmly rooted in Britain’s collective imagination, if all the ravens were to leave the Tower, the kingdom would collapse and the country be plunged into chaos.
Coronavirus lockdown restrictions saw tourist attractions across the country close their doors, including the imposing 1,000-year-old royal fortress on the banks of the River Thames.
That left Skaife with an unprecedented challenge of how to entertain the celebrated avian residents, who suddenly found themselves with no one to play with — or rob food from. It also raised fears the birds — known as the guardians of the Tower — would fly away to try to find tasty morsels elsewhere, and worse still, risk the legend coming to pass.
There are eight ravens in captivity in the Tower of London: Merlina, Poppy, Erin, Jubilee, Rocky, Harris, Gripp and George. A royal decree, purportedly issued in the 17th century, stated there must be six on site at any one time but Skaife said he keeps two as “spares”, “just in case”. They are free to roam the grounds but to prevent them from flying too far, their wings are trimmed back slightly.
Back in March when lockdown began, Skaife — who is in his 50s and a retired staff sergeant and former drum major in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment — was furloughed. But he still came to work to look after his majestic feathered charges, rotating feeding and caring duties with his three assistants.
“During that period of time, the ravens didn’t actually see anybody,” he said. “There were slight changes that I noticed. For instance, I had to keep them occupied without the public being there (and) there were less things for them to do. So I gave them enrichment toys that would help them enjoy their day.” With no people around, he put balloons, ladders and even mirrors in their cages to keep them entertained, and hid food around the Tower grounds for them to find.