Most kids as a part of growing up will take a field trip or a family trip to visit their local zoo. Zoos are a great place for children to see animals that are usually wild and exotic and not from the local area. It is a way for kids to experience and learn about wildlife and their natural habitats.
Zoos are controversial because like any place that holds animals in captivity they are limiting the animals to life behind glass or in cages. However a lot of these places are saving species that are endangered, rescuing them from poachers or helping animals that have been injured or can no longer live on their own in the wild.
Some animals however, decide that they don’t need rescuing and their natural instincts kick in for ideas of escape.
While captivity can help animals recover from traumatic experiences some animals just can’t be caged. The bottom line is they are wild animals with wild hearts and sometimes they are not meant for human intervention. A wily flamingo is living proof of one animal that would not be kept in a zoo.
In 2004 the Sedgwick County Zoo of Wichita, Kansas was opening a new Africa exhibit and as part of that exhibit they imported 40 wild flamingos from Tanzania. Because these flamingos were adults the zoo was unable to clip their wings to prevent flight. When the birds are babies it is an easy thing to do because they have not yet developed bones or nerves in their wings and the procedure is painless.
Clipping wings is seen as cruel to do it as adults as the birds are fully developed and it is painful for them. The alternative is to simply trim back the feathers in order to ground them. They are given what is more like a haircut and this procedure needs to be done every year on the birds to prevent flight.
Because the keepers overlooked the length of the bird’s feathers in 2005 this was a golden opportunity for escape.
A pair of flamingos named No. 492 and No. 347 because of the numbers on their leg bands, used the fact that the feathers had not been trimmed and that it was a particularly windy day in June to make their escape. Both birds remained in Wichita for a few days after the escape and the zoo made attempts to catch the and return them to their flock. However these attempts would be in vain.
One of the most entertaining factors in this story is that a storm blew in on July 4th, Independence day and gave the birds the wind and opportunity to leave the area to freedom!
While No. 347 tragically has not been seen since the escape and is thought to have passed, No. 492 has been spotted in several states and seems to have chosen Texas as a favorite spot to appear. Having now evaded capture for over a decade the flamingo is spotted regularly and seems to be living happily ever after.
It’s no wonder this bird sticks out as flamingos are not native to the US, only being found in Florida on occasion. But No. 492 doesn’t seem to notice and from the looks of it is enjoying hard earned freedom, having flown over 1,000 miles to get to it’s new home in Texas.
According to the Costal Fisheries – Texas Parks and Wildlife, when No. 492 is not in Texas, the wild flamingo has been spotted in Louisiana and Wisconsin as well. This bird definitely knows how to travel! You may also be thinking it must be a lonely life for this little escapee but this special bird was actually able to find a travel partner.
No. 492 is not alone in the world and has actually been seen on many occasions with another escaped Caribbean Flamingo who’s leg tag reads only HDNT.
Flamingos are known to live to an average age of 40 years. While the sexes of the 2 flamingos are not known, they seem to be happy together in their hard earned freedom. Figuring No. 492 is about 23 years old, it seems this amazing bird and partner in crime have a lot of wild, free and happy years together.
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