Oldest Flamingo Ever: The Story of Greater the Flamingo
Oldest known flamingo named "Greater" at Adelaide Zoo, Australia - Photo by CloudiaSpinner/Shutterstock.com
The oldest flamingo ever lived to 83.
Before we go too deep into its story, though, it’s important to note that it is possible that there was or is a flamingo at some point throughout the course of this fabulous fowl's history that has surpassed the age of 83. However, we can only go by what has been recorded by us silly humans, and that gives “Greater” the flamingo the nod. However, flamingos do have longer life expectancies in captivity compared to the wild, so that makes it more probable that 83 is the true record.
Known as Greater because it belonged to the greater flamingo species, the flamingo died at Adelaide Zoo in Australia in 2014. It arrived there in 1933, though it’s unclear whether it came to Australia by way of the zoo in Cairo or Hamburg. If that’s not weird enough, Greater’s sex also remained unknown during the entirety of its life.
“Greater is best known for being the world’s oldest flamingo and the last greater flamingo to have resided in Australia,” Elaine Bensted, chief executive of Adelaide Zoo, told the Australian AP in 2014.
Greater lived through World War II, the Cold War, many presidents and prime ministers. It even survived a brutal attack from four teenagers in 2008, which left its head and beak injured, eye bleeding, and placed the bird in critical condition. But it defeated the odds and continued to live years after the assault.
Greater (Oldest Flamingo Ever) Grooming - Photo by CloudiaSpinner/Shutterstock.com
Eventually, though, old age caught up to Greater. In 2013, its physical health started to dip drastically, but the zoo’s teams of vets used anti-inflammatory pain medication to help it through. Surprisingly, Greater survived the 2013 winter, but in early 2014, the flamingo’s condition was too severe. The difficult decision was made, and the almost-blind bird was put down.
“The difficult decision was made to humanely put the flamingo to sleep this morning as its quality of life had significantly deteriorated due to complications associated with old age,” the zoo posted on its blog in 2014.
#RIP 'Greater' so named as last Greater Flamingo in Australia – died at 83 at Adelaide Zoo Nicole Miller pic pic.twitter.com/W4AzvOWcz2— W A L L E N (@Hyacinth39) February 2, 2014
A few months after Greater passed away, the Adelaide Zoo announced it would immortalize the flamingo in the South Australian Museum with unique taxidermy techniques that had previously never been used in Australia.
“Because Greater is such an iconic animal, we are not going to go down the normal route,” Jo Bain, the museum’s taxidermist and model maker, told Tim Williams of The Advertiser in 2014. “One of the problems with flamingos and other water birds is they have very long legs and you can’t get in to remove the tendons and muscles … so they would need support rods that would be visible. Birds’ faces shrink and you lose all that detail. We don’t want a generic feel, we want it to be Greater. If I mould them, I will get every crease and nuance perfectly.
“I’m looking for an ibis [for practice], so if anyone finds a dead one, I’d like to know,” Bain added.
Chilly, a Chilean flamingo who was Greater’s companion at the zoo for many years since arriving in the 1970s, became the last flamingo in Australia as the country had previously placed a moratorium on importing the birds into its borders. In 2018, Chilly passed away as well, also succumbing to old age in her 60s. She is also being taxidermied by Bain to live on forever in the South Australian Museum.
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