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Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012

Zoo races to bag fugitive flamingo


Zookeepers in Hokkaido are racing against nature to catch a fugitive flamingo before it freezes or migrates south for the winter.

News photo
Flew the coop: A flamingo that escaped from Asahiyama Zoo is seen on Lake Komuke in Monbetsu, Hokkaido, on Oct. 23. KYODO

Bird experts have tried to net the escapee on the lake where it has made its home by using captive flamingos as bait, and have even donned diving gear to sneak up on the pink-feathered bird from underwater.

Every time they get anywhere near the bird, it takes to the skies, said Akihisa Kato from Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa.

"We want to capture it ourselves if possible. But if we don't, it can survive the winter if it flies south to warmer places with migratory birds such as swans and geese," he said. "But if it goes to Honshu, it will be difficult to continue our hunt because of the costs involved."

The bird, a member of the greater flamingo species, usually found in northern Africa and Mediterranean Europe, is surviving on a diet of plankton and seaweed. But with the mercury falling in Hokkaido, where winter temperatures regularly reach minus 10, the bird's options are narrowing.

"We guess the flamingo will make some kind of move before the lake freezes," Kato said.

The hunt began in July — an altogether more pleasant time of the year to be out and about in Hokkaido — when the meter-tall bird hopped a fence at its enclosure.

After initially flying south, the bird — which was never given a name by keepers — made its home on a brackish lake by the Sea of Okhotsk, some 130 km east of the zoo, among a flock of less colorful herons.

One attempt to recapture the bird saw the zoo's director put on a wet suit and snorkel in a bid to approach without being seen, said Kato, adding that his boss had only managed to get within 100 meters before the entire flock took flight.

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