Elena Passarello’s column is about famous animals from history. This week: two flamingos escape to the Gulf.
It is a black eye, to be honest. It was basically an error. We are not fond of this story.
—Scott Newland, Sedgwick County Zoo
Jay points the boat in the direction of a couple of large pink dots. And as we approach closer, the dots start developing long necks and legs.
—The birder Neil Hayward
Every once in a while they’d walk 10–15 feet apart, but then they’d just come back together and move as one.
—The birder Nate McGowan
Names: 492 and HDNT
Species: Phoenicopterus roseus and Phoenicopterus ruber, respectively
Years Active: 2005–present
Distinguishing Features: yellow ID tags, monogamous tendencies
Skills: escape artistry, international travel, standing on one leg
Habitat: The Gulf Coast (by way of Tanzania, Kansas, Wisconsin, and the Yucatán)
Additional Notes: On June 27, 2005, a ten-year-old flamingo escaped the confines of its Wichita zoo with another pale-pink inmate. Zookeepers hadn’t properly clipped either flamingo’s wings—a regrettable error, they later confessed—and the birds simply took flight when no one was watching. The fugitives, members of an “old world” species called the greater flamingo, had recently arrived in Kansas from a colony in Tanzania. They hadn’t even been named yet and were only identified by the numbered tags on their right legs; their sex was also undetermined. Despite this lack of human knowledge, the flamingo known only as 492 would soon join a long list of headline-making runaway animal celebrities, thanks to its bold escape.
Famous animal fugitives are legion; this past year alone has featured the viral jailbreaks of Inky the Octopus (who squished across an aquarium floor to slip out a drainpipe); Ollie Bobcat, reported missing from her enclosure in the National Zoo last Monday (but found near the bird exhibit Wednesday); and Sunny, a red panda that ghosted from the Virginia Zoo (and is still at large). We humans thrill over the creatures that outsmart us—those that go on the lam and rewild themselves into the free world. Perhaps we see in them a covetable wiliness, or maybe the escapees just make our planet—so much of it now cultivated, mapped, and conquered—feel vast again. And as long as these runaways have no taste for humans, we tend to support their newfound freedom. Read More