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Forget Llamas and Lions, Flamingos Are the Best Escape Artists

The pink birds are tougher than they look

Flamingos at the the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo in Israel, possibly contemplating their escape (Yoninah/Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0))
smithsonian.com

When fearsome animals like lions and wolves escape from captivity, they make headlines. As do tamer animals like the recently televised llama escape. But as Sarah Laskow reports at Atlas Obscura, these animals rarely roam free for long. To really understand how to escape from a zoo, ask a different animal. The flamingo. She writes:

Of all the species that occasionally make a break for it, flamingos, anecdotally, seem to have the most success. In Japan, more than one flamingo has succeeded in leaving captivity. A flamingo flew the coop in Kansas and afterwards was regularly spotted living a seemingly happy existence along the Gulf Coast. A flamingo that escaped a Utah aviary made its home for years on the Great Salt Lake and became a local celebrity.

The birds do have an escape advantage over many other animals simply because they can fly. Zookeepers keep their wings clipped, just as backyard chicken owners do to circumscribe escapees. But in all the above cases, feathers grew out sooner than keepers realized. 

Flamingos might seem too leggy and somehow too pink (if one ascribes to stereotypes) to survive long in the wild, but they are robust birds. Paul Rose of the University of Exeter expounds on their qualities in a university news article:

Their long lifespan, both in captivity and in the wild, may be due to them having very few predators, plus they don’t get diseases that affect other waterfowl.

“Flamingos are bomb-proof. They look so fragile but they’re not. Their only problem is if they break their leg,” said Paul.

In addition to a lack of natural predators, humans aren’t that concerned about rampaging flamingos. As a result the escapees can get comfortable in the wild. One such "flamingo fugitive," Laskow reports, is Pink Floyd of Salt Lake City, a Chilean flamingo who escaped from Tracy Aviary in the city in 1988 and spent the next couple of decades living on the lake and feasting on brine shrimp to keep his pink hue. At one point, plastic flamingos placed by an artist helped the ex-captive feel at home. 

The success of escapee flamingos means it just might be worth double-checking the plastic-ness of any flamingos spotted decorating lawns.

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