Photo by JMxImages/Shutterstock.com
On June 27, 2005, strong storm winds swept through the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas. Two flamingos took advantage of Mother Nature’s gusts.
An African flamingo known as No. 492 for the number on its yellow ID tag and one of its fellow zoo inmates used the wind to help propel themselves up and out of their enclosure.
They were noticed hanging out at a lake near the zoo. Zoo employees tried to wrangle up the free-spirited flamingos but to no avail. The birds understood to fly away whenever a person came remotely close to them.
“It became very clear it was going to be very difficult to recapture the birds,” Scott Newland, the curator of birds at the Sedgwick County Zoo, told Kelsey Bradshaw of the Austin American-Statesman in 2018.
It has been well over a decade since No. 492 and its co-conspirator successfully escaped their zoo. Unfortunately, No. 492’s partner in crime has not been seen from again and is assumed dead, but No. 492 found itself a new home several hundred miles south of Wichita: Texas.
Escaped zoo flamingo, on the lam since 2005, spotted near Lavaca Bay by our Coastal crew.— TX Parks & Wildlife (@TPWDnews) June 25, 2018
The African Flamingo made its break from a Kansas zoo after keepers failed to clip its wings, and has been spotted in several states since. pic.twitter.com/zsoYBf48Aa
It seems that as of 2019, No. 492 has made itself a new home in Lavaca Bay, Texas, taking up residency in the Lone Star State. Flamingos aren’t often found in the United States, and if they are, it’s almost always in south Florida. But No. 492 found somewhere suitable on the Texas Gulf Coast.
“As long as they have these shallow, salty types of wetlands they can be pretty resilient,” Felicity Arengo, a flamingo expert at the American Museum of Natural History, told Daniel Victor of the New York Times in 2018.
Texas isn’t the only place No. 492 has been spotted over the years - sightings of the flamingo have occurred in Wisconsin and Louisiana, too - but after being discovered in the Lone Star State multiple times, it’s assumed the bird has made the state its home base.
Photo by P.V.R.Murty/Shutterstock.com
It’s very rare to see a flamingo by itself as the species prefers to be along its own. It had to have been hard for No. 492 to be alone for so long, as a storm is assumed to have separated it from its original companion from Wichita, but the bird has been a lucky one. In 2006 and 2013, No. 492 was seen with another flamingo - not the same one from the Sedgwick County Zoo.
No. 492’s friend, a Caribbean flamingo, is thought to have been swept into the Gulf from another storm, pairing up the two flamingos from two different backgrounds.
“Even though they’re two different species, they are enough alike that they would have been more than happy to see each other,” Newland said to the New York Times in 2018. “They’re two lonely birds in kind of a foreign habitat. They’re not supposed to be there, so they have stayed together because there’s a bond.”
When No. 492 was seen in 2018, it was not accompanied by its Caribbean flamingo friend like in the past. It may have been nearby, or they may have been temporarily separated. The Caribbean flamingo not being there doesn’t mean it has died or the two have split up.
Newland told the New York Times that flamingos can live into their 40s and estimated that No. 492 is approximately 20. That means No. 492 could live for another 10 to 20 years, although predators are a concern. Foxes and bobcats might consider No. 492 to be a delicious meal, but as of 2019, they hadn’t gotten the fugitive flamingo yet!