TWO giant pelicans that escaped from Fota Wildlife Park in Cork last summer have voluntarily returned to their enclosure after five months on the run.
The Great White Pelicans, which can grow up to six feet in length, stunned rangers by taking flight last June, despite having had their wings clipped to prevent them from flying away.
A third pelican also took to the air but decided against leaving the confines of the park. The fourth and final member of the species was unable to join its friends and remained grounded.
The two escapees were subsequently spotted enjoying their first taste of freedom near Belvelly Bridge in Cork Harbour and continued living in the wild for almost 21 weeks before making a surprise return to Fota on November 19.
Great Whites are the world’s second-largest species of pelican, with a wingspan that typically exceeds 10 feet. They are native to Africa, Asia, and south-eastern Europe.
The birds’ diet mainly consists of fish, although they are opportunistic foragers and can also eat other birds and their young.
They need to eat up to 1.4kg of fish per day in the wild.
Fota’s feathered fugitives were spotted missing from their habitat at feeding time on June 26 last year. The escape was reported to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht two days later.
“They are not a danger to the public and will fly away from people if approached,” the park wrote in an email to the Department, which was released under the Freedom of Information Act.
“These two birds are feather-clipped and flew off when some of the feathers grew back and allowed them to take flight. A third pelican can also fly but has not left the wildlife park,” they explained.
“It is hoped they will return within the next few days when they become hungry and will want to come back the wildlife park for food.”
There was no sign of any such return, however, and the birds continued to live in the wild for five months before making a surprise appearance at Fota on November 19, allowing park rangers to capture them.
“The pelicans were examined by the vet and are fit and healthy,” said a spokesperson for the wildlife park.
“The welfare of the birds and animals that reside at Fota Wildlife Park, along with the safety of all our staff and visitors is paramount to the park,” she added.
There have been a number of daring animal escapes from the popular visitor attraction in recent years.
An ape, a penguin and a monkey were among the species that escaped in 2015.
In January of that year, a macaque monkey called Stevie Wonder absconded from an island enclosure “several times” in one day. An incident report noted that he was “getting very bold and [is] obviously not frightened of people and is getting very close to them.”
The report noted that bins in the park had been knocked over and rubbish was “strewn everywhere” following the monkey’s escape.