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Tower of London cages its ravens

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Legend has it that the ravens must stay at the Tower of London or the fortress and the kingdom will fall.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The Tower of London, home to Britain's Crown Jewels, has decided to keep its ravens indoors to protect them from the threat of bird flu.

The six black birds were moved from lawns outside the 11th century castle into specially built cages in one of its towers as the deadly disease spreads across Europe, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

"Although we don't like having to bring the Tower ravens inside, we believe it is the safest thing to do for their own protection, given the speed that the virus is moving across Europe," said Yeoman Raven Master Derrick Coyle.

Legend has it that the ravens must stay at the Tower of London or the fortress and the kingdom will fall, so they are protected by a special decree issued in the 17th century by Charles II.

Ravens can live for about 25 years. When one of the Tower ravens dies it is usually replaced by a wild one. Recently, however, some have been hatched in captivity.

The six, notoriously unfriendly birds -- Branwen, Hugine, Munin, Gwyllum, Thor and Baldrick -- already have their wings clipped to prevent them from flying away. The birds are getting used to their new surroundings, Coyle said.

"We are taking advice on the vaccinations against avian flu, and in the meantime, we will continue to give our six ravens as much care and attention as they need," he added.

Coyle now has to substitute his yeoman's outfit for a full, protective bird flu suit when he tends to the ravens.

The United Kingdom is one of the few remaining countries within the European Union where the government has said it is not yet necessary to lock up free-range poultry.

Bird flu cases have been reported across Europe this month, marking a sudden resurgence of the deadly H5N1 influenza virus, which scientists fear could trigger a pandemic if it mutates and jumps from person to person.

Many of the outbreaks have involved wild birds and the World Health Organization says migratory fowl are believed to be one way the virus is spreading.

CNN's Jonathan Wald contributed to this report.

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