Everybody loves a good escaped animal story (and the race to give it a Twitter handle). Today’s comes in the form of a flamingo that has been on the run ever since its daring escape over a decade ago, that has been found living it up in Texas.
It began back in 2005 when the opportunistic escapee – known as no. 492 thanks to the band on its leg – and an accomplice fled Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas. They had been brought over from Tanzania in 2004, along with 38 other flamingos, for the zoo’s new Africa exhibit.
You’re probably wondering how such a flamboyant creature – flamingos are not native to the US, only occasionally turning up in Florida, so should rather stand out – has evaded capture for over a decade. And also probably how it escaped the zoo in the first place.
It's not as ingenious as the baboons that broke out of a research center A-Team-style using just themselves, a wall, and some barrels, or the orangutan that managed to open its own cage and escape a zoo in South Carolina (the video of which you can watch here).
“It is a black eye, to be honest,” Scott Newland, the zoo’s bird curator, told the Kansas City Star, back in 2013 and after a previous sighting. “It was basically an error. We are not fond of this story.”
Newland told the New York Times the birds were already adults when they were brought over. If they had been chicks, their wings would have been clipped – which is painless for young birds as they haven’t developed sensation in their wings as the bones haven’t formed properly yet – but the zoo felt clipping them as adults would be cruel.
Instead, they trimmed their wing feathers, similar to a haircut, to ground them. This needed to be repeated every year as they molt. However, on a windy June day in 2005, no. 492 and no. 347 took advantage of the fact keepers hadn’t seemed to notice they were at the stage where their feathers needed clipping again, and made a break for it.
The pair stayed local for a few days, and attempts were made to recapture them, but a storm brought wild weather and on July 4, Independence Day (this story just gets better and better), the birds were gone.
Sadly, it is suspected 347 died, but 492 made it all the way to Texas, over 1,000 kilometers (630 miles) away, to start anew, and has apparently been living its best life ever since.
The flamingo, whose sex is unknown as it escaped before that could be determined, has even found a companion in the form of a Caribbean flamingo with a leg tag reading HDNT. Whether they are BFFs or lovers no one knows, but as flamingos can live in the wild for 40 years, and 492 is thought to be around 23, our flamingo-loving hearts hope the two have a long and happy future ahead of them.