As Flaco Watch enters its second week, it appears the latest animal to captivate New York has done the impossible: Flaco has embraced freedom and has no intention of returning to the rigid confines of the Central Park Zoo. For Flaco, this is a triumph of animal instinct; for New Yorkers, it is a reminder of the fleeting and enigmatic nature of a wilderness we can never truly understand.
Perhaps you'll recall that Flaco, a Eurasian eagle-owl, escaped the zoo in early February after someone slashed his mesh enclosure—an act of vandalism, according to officials, who first noticed him missing around 8:30 on a Friday night. Since then, Flaco has been monitored by swarms of zoo officials and bird-watchers as he alighted briefly on Fifth Avenue near Bergdorf Goodman before returning to a perch in Central Park.
Initially, the prognosis from Flaco's guardians and devotees wasn't good: "This bird is in peril because it almost certainly cannot survive on its own," David Barrett, the Upper East Sider who runs Manhattan Bird Alert, told the New York Times. (Zoo officials tended to concur, though Barrett's play-by-play of Operation Flaco did not go over well with some fellow animal enthusiasts.) And there was certainly reason to wonder if Flaco could survive in the wild after his accidental jailbreak: The orange-and-black bird of prey had been in captivity since he was about a year old.
Flaco has faced a number of trials since he was set free: He's suffered the invasive cameras of Australian tourists, crowds of bird-watchers, and plunging temperatures when the city faced a veritable Arctic blast. But something deep in his nature has kept him both alive and free of zoo officials' grasp. Attempts to lure Flaco with rat-bait traps have been unsuccessful. At one point, Flaco made a dramatic escape from a net.
But on Monday, the Central Park Zoo reversed course, announcing they would "rethink" the rescue mission in light of Flaco's bold embrace of his new habitat. The bird has, somewhat incredibly, been finding food for himself: "We have seen a rapid improvement in his flights skills and ability to confidently maneuver around the park," the organization said in a statement. "Our observations indicated that he seems to be comfortable in the area of the park where he has been hunting, and we don't want to do anything to encourage him to leave this site."
In a city where rare wild beasts tend to be monitored and adored, only to often then succumb to the toxic man-made environments we've spawned, Flaco's story is a triumph. Hell Gate salutes our newly liberated winged comrade and wish him a long and rat poison-free life.
(Photo credit: Ed Schipul / Flickr)
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