I for one welcome our new strygine overlord. :)
Backstory: This gentleman escaped from Central Park Zoo in March after his enclosure there was vandalized, and there was a lot of concern over whether or not he could/would survive out of captivity. Unconcerned by this, Flaco settled himself in a particular area of Central Park and spent all the spring, summer, and most of the fall eating large numbers of rats, and genially allowing himself to be photographed by an ever-growing cadre of bird paparazzi.
Then a few weeks ago, possibly irked by repeated mobbing by assorted hawks and corvids, Flaco took off from his normal haunts and went on a brief tour of apartment-building courtyards on the Lower East Side. Now he’s on the Upper West Side, within sight of Central Park (so food’s no problem, should he feel like heading back that way to hunt), and shouting for everybody to hear that he owns the place. The image above shows him on the water tower of an apartment building at 86th and CPW.
What’s in his future? Hard to tell. (Though some people on Twitter are suggesting he should run for mayor.) He may head upstate at some point. But he may decide he’s quite happy to be a Manhattanite. As a fellow one, I wish him very well. :)
I love that an animal escaped from the zoo and everyone just went “no let’s see where he’s going with this”
as someone who has actually tried to get an unflighted adult Eurasian eagle owl back into his box while actually having a good grip on him, I can tell you with reasonable certainty there is no damn way they were ever going to catch him again.
This whole situation is one of the things that really makes me want to be a fly on the wall inside AZA accreditation meetings. Central Park Zoo is AZA, and it’s unbelievable that somehow they’ve faced no real problems with compliance for just… not managing to catch a loose escaped collection animal. Especially one that’s large, non-native, and highly charismatic.
A big part of AZA standards is that if animals leave a zoo’s control, the zoo is responsible for ensuring that the new location is providing appropriate care for the animal. If they don’t, they can get in a lot of trouble for irresponsibly disposing of them. “Oops, we lost him in NYC” does not exactly count. Regardless of the practicality of catching him at this point, I can’t overstate how much it would be such a huge deal if this happened at a non-AZA zoo - like I would 110% percent expect AZA’a CEO to make derogatory statements to the media about how irresponsible and unprofessional it is for a theoretical roadside zoo to just lose an animal like that and then choose to abandon him to fend for himself, etc etc. But because Central Park is AZA, I guess there’s just different rules? And AZA seems to be just fine with Flaco being loose and risking all sorts of possible harmful welfare and health impacts. Now, AZA makes all accreditation stuff proprietary, so maybe Central Park has gotten their hand slapped out of public view but… the whole thing just seemingly being NBD is mind blowing.
If Flaco were to escape now - in late 2023 - and not be recaptured, I’m pretty sure would actually be USDA violation for the zoo. Yet his escape in February 2023 wasn’t, by virtue of a timing loophole and the fact that new regulations have some lag time built in before compliance is mandatory. USDA finally expanded their remit to birds in addition to mammals, and the new rules were promulgated in Feb 2023! But facilities with existing licenses had until August to get into compliance. Which means, basically, that both the regulatory mechanism and the accrediting ones meant to ensure that the zoo actually is fully responsible for Flaco didn’t work. AZA because they just dgaf, and USDA because it happened just before they actually had the necessary jurisdiction.
The WCS announced late in the evening on February 23, 2024, that Flaco passed away after a collision with a building.
Their press release went on to state that:
“The downed owl was reported to the Wild Bird Fund (WBF) by people in the building. Staff from the WBF quickly responded, retrieved the non-responsive owl and declared him dead shortly afterward. The WBF notified zoo staff who picked up the bird and transported him to the Bronx Zoo for necropsy.”
I don’t have a lot of words: I’m angry and yet also unsurprised. Reducing the risk of window collisions is crucial for protecting all urban birds; but Flaco’s story is about much more than that. His life was originally endangered by the person who cut open his exhibit and set him loose. The birding community in NYC made it worse: by romanticizing the idea of “freedom” and buying into the fallacy that “natural” and “wild” are inherently somehow better for animals - regardless of what they have ever known, or might prefer - their actions contributed to depriving him of many more years of a good, safe, captive life.
Instead. Flaco, a member of a species that regularly lives to 20 years in the wild and three times that in human care is dead at 13 because of anthropomorphism, selfishness, and a local community’s refusal to listen to scientific experts. He lived one fifth of his potential lifespan and he died on the pavement after colliding with a structure he had no capacity to understand, much less the ability to avoid.
The WCS has stated they will conduct a necropsy (animal autopsy) and will share additional information that results from it. That data will tell us which narrative is true: if he really was thriving as a “wild” bird in a foreign and adversarial habitat as so many fans claimed - or if, as so many scientists and animal care experts have expressed concerns about, he was ingesting rodenticide from eating city rats and struggling to stay healthy.
@honkifurhoary summarized the situation well in their tweets (emphasis mine):
“Flaco’s premature death was an inevitability as soon as his enclosure was vandalized. The people who sabotaged recapture efforts, instead of investing resources to help his recapture & improve his habitat, further guaranteed it. This wasn’t freedom. This was human failure. So much suffering is caused by humans anthropomorphizing wildlife. This is no exception.”