The wayward wader flew the coop 13 years ago and has been traveling ever since.
In June of 2005, flamingo No. 492 and an accomplice, No. 347, made their great escape from the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas. Now, some 13 years later, 492 has been seen in Texas.
The story begins in the summer of 2003 when the two were amongst a group of 40 flamingos imported to the zoo from Tanzania. Since the two were adults, they were spared the clipping of their wings and instead had their feathers clipped annually to prevent them from flight. But in a lucky break for the birds, they missed their clipping and just like that, flew away.
They relocated to a drainage canal on the western side of Wichita, and while under observation from the zoo for weeks, the animal handlers were unable to capture them. And then they took off for good.
While the two parted ways – and 347 has remained elusive – 492 has been seen in Arkansas, Louisiana and even Wisconsin. And while flamingo facsimiles may populate many a front yard in the United States, live ones are not native and only occasionally show up in Florida (like the one pictured above).
No. 492 found its way to Texas, where the environment was suitable and better yet, the liberated bird met its unlikely match, it's BFF, a Caribbean flamingo. The zoo’s curator of birds, Scott Newland, thinks the new pal may have ended up in the Gulf during a tropical storm. Since flamingos are very social, this was likely a saving grace for both of them.
“Even though they’re two different species, they are enough alike that they would have been more than happy to see each other,” Newland told The New York Times. “They’re two lonely birds in kind of a foreign habitat. They’re not supposed to be there, so they have stayed together because there’s a bond.”
Newland says that 492 is probably around 20 years old – and given that flamingos in the wild can live into their 40s, 492 may have a good amount of time left. While there are some predators, there’s a significant factor that should work in the bird’s favor: Flamingos are not considered game birds, giving them the unusual animal distinction of, just maybe, not being killed by a human.
Wishing 492 the best of luck. And may the rose-hued fugitive serve as inspiration for us all: Perseverance pays off.