Members of a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department crew were tickled pink when they spotted an African flamingo flying among seagulls in Lavaca Bay last week.
“I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure flamingos aren’t native to Texas,” The New York Times quoted a crew member as saying.
This astute observation is true. Aside from a few sightings in South Florida and Puerto Rico, the leggy bird isn’t often seen in the United States.
This crew just happened to have the rare privilege of stumbling upon No. 492 — a famed flamingo that escaped from a Kansas zoo over a decade ago.
Dubbed No. 492 because of the number on a band on its leg, the legendary bird fled Wichita’s Sedgwick County Zoo in 2005 and has been on the run ever since.
No. 492’s flight feathers had not been trimmed by the zoo because staffers thought they weren’t fully grown, according to a 2013 story in the Kansas City Star.
Unfortunately, they were wrong.
One night the freedom-loving flamingo took advantage of strong storm winds and broke out before zookeepers had a chance to take a blood test and determine its sex.
Since then, No. 492, which is originally from Tasmania and spent some time in South Africa before being taken to the zoo in 2004 with 39 other flamingos, has been spotted in Wisconsin, Texas and Louisiana. The feathered fugitive has also been seen with a friend (or mate) a few times, a Yucatan-born Caribbean flamingo with a band reading “HDNT.”
And hopefully, the 22-year-old No. 492 will eventually get to see even more of the country, because it could live to be 50 years old, according to Scott Newland, the Sedgwick County Zoo’s curator of birds, who spoke to Reuters in 2013.
“It’s a testament to the adaptability of these animals,” he told Reuters, adding that the zoo has never tried to recapture the bird because it “began its life in the wild and is naturally wary of being approached by people.”
And although Newland is happy to see No. 492 thriving, he’s not exactly keen on being asked about it.
“It is a black eye, to be honest,” he told the Kansas City Star in 2013. “It was basically an error. We are not fond of this story.”
But at least he sees one positive in the media’s coverage.
“The good thing is that if this is what gets people out watching wildlife, there is no harm in that.”