sábado, abril 13

Flaco, owl escaped from the Central Park Zoo and defier of doubts, is dead

Flaco, the European eagle owl whose escape from the Central Park Zoo and life on the loose in Manhattan captured public attention, died Friday evening after apparently colliding with a building on the Upper West Side, officials said.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the zoo, said in a statement that Flaco was found on the ground after hitting a building on West 89th Street.

Residents of the building contacted the Wild Bird Fund, a rescue organization, whose staff members responded quickly, picked him up and pronounced him dead a short time later, the company said.

Zoo workers took him to the Bronx Zoo, where an autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death. He would have turned 14 next month.

Flaco’s year as a free bird began on the evening of February 2, 2023, when someone shredded the chicken wire of the modest enclosure where he had lived most of his life. Police said in January that no arrests had been made and the investigation was continuing.

“The vandal who damaged the Flaco exhibit endangered the safety of the bird and is ultimately responsible for its death,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said in its statement. “We remain hopeful that the NYPD, who are investigating the vandalism, will eventually make an arrest.”

Flaco began attracting a passionate fan base almost as soon as he showed up on a Fifth Avenue sidewalk the night he was released. He looked out of place, with police nearby and Bergdorf Goodman just a plane ride away.

“Well that was fun,” the 19th NYPD Precinct posted on social media. “We tried to help this smart guy, but he got fed up with his growing audience and took off.”

Soon, Flaco had moved to Central Park.

As the days passed and he remained free, the question of whether he could survive outside the zoo after a lifetime there transformed his plight into an underdog story. When he showed he could endure, he became a feathered feel-good figure in troubled times, with birders, ornithologists, and ordinary New Yorkers following him in person or, in many cases, followed his exploits online.

But every day spent outside of captivity was risky, even without the dangers presented by an urban environment. The wild eagle owl can live more than 40 years in captivity, but only 20 years on average in its natural habitat.

Hitting a building, particularly a window, was one of the many deadly threats he faced. Others include death by poisoning via rodenticide in rats he ate and a fatal collision with a vehicle.

For more than a year, however, Flaco proved immune.

He managed to avoid vehicles by largely sticking to rooftops, water towers and other elevated features of the built environment after leaving Central Park last fall. But the risk of him being killed in a building accident was great: According to the National Audubon Society, up to 230,000 birds die each year in New York when they hit windows.

David Lei, who with his partner Jacqueline Emery has followed and photographed Flaco since his escape, said in an email that he and Ms. Emery were «sad beyond words but have all our fond memories of him.»

Flaco was born March 15, 2010, at the Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, North Carolina, according to Association of Zoos and Aquariums records.

He arrived at the Central Park Zoo less than two months later. It was first placed with snow leopards, snow monkeys and red pandas. He was later moved to an enclosure the size of a department store window, near the exit of the penguin house.

It was far from its natural habitat: the European eagle owl, known by the scientific name Bubo bubo, is an apex predator typically found across much of Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and Central Asia. They are among the largest owls in the world, with a wingspan of up to six feet. They thrive in mountains and other rocky areas near forests, swooping at night to hunt rodents, rabbits, and other prey.

In a November 2010 press release citing Flaco’s «large greenhouses» and «intense gaze,» the conservation society said he was «adapting very well to his new home» and was «a truly impressive spectacle.”

But Flaco’s life at the zoo was ordinary. It was only after his departure that he began to command true respect.

At the beginning of his freedom, employees of the conservation society made several attempts to recover him. They backed down after he proved that a life of captivity had not dulled his essential nature, and in the face of growing public sentiment that he was allowed to stay out of the zoo.

A turning point came when he was seen devouring a rat and, later, spitting out an indigestible pellet of fur and bone.

“At first, a major concern for everyone was whether Flaco would be able to hunt and eat,” the conservation society said in a statement ten days after he left the zoo. “It’s no longer a problem.”

That concern aside, the company said it would «rethink our approach» to dealing with Flaco’s new circumstances: «We will continue to monitor it, but not as intensely, and will seek to reclaim it opportunistically when the situation will be good. »

Before long, Flaco had settled into a comfortable life at the north end of the park, roosting in his favorite trees and eating his meals.

He left the relative safety of the park around Halloween to embark on a tour of Manhattan that took him to the East Village, the Lower East Side and the Upper East Side, delighting those he encountered as he went. It appeared on terraces and air conditioners that resembled the cliff ledges that Eurasian owls are accustomed to.

By December, Flaco had largely established itself on the Upper West Side, from the 1970s to the 1990s and from Central Park West to Riverside Drive, returning to some buildings several times.

He usually spent his days sleeping on fire escapes in the courtyards, where it was warmer and sheltered from the wind. At dusk, it flew away in search of prey.

It mostly ate rats, although it had recently been seen catching pigeons.

A poignant aspect of Flaco’s life in Manhattan was that as a non-native species, he was destined never to find a mate. This did not stop him from trying, sometimes hooting for hours in the post-midnight darkness, to establish his territory and declare his interest in breeding.

The last hoots reported by Flaco were heard from a water tower on West 86th Street, east of Columbus Avenue, at 3 a.m. last Sunday, according to David Barrett’s Manhattan Bird Alert social media account.

On Friday, Flaco was found a few blocks away.

Catrin Einhorn reports contributed.