Floyd may get some pink feathered friends

Walker is asked to help get flamingos to join popular bird

Published: Monday, Jan. 12 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

Pink Floyd, a Chilean flamingo that escaped from Tracy Aviary, takes off from the Great Salt Lake. A group wants to acquire more Chilean flamingos for the lake.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

Enlarge photo»

Gov. Olene Walker might want to add to her monolithic to-do list the task of helping a renegade flamingo find a few dozen friends.

Or not.

Pink Floyd, as he is known by most, is a flamingo that escaped from Salt Lake City's Tracy Aviary in 1990. There were unsuccessful attempts to capture him.

Since Floyd's flight from captivi- ty, he has made the shores of the Great Salt Lake his winter home.

But Floyd's is a lonely life.

He is the lone flamingo that joins scores of other wintering and native bird species at the Great Salt Lake around this time. Sources say Floyd's summer home is Montana.

Floyd has even gained a fan following with a "loosely affiliated" group of 10 or so people called Friends for Floyd, which formed after seeing Floyd's visage on the front page of a newspaper.

At the end of last winter, the group asked former Gov. Mike Leavitt to sign a proclamation that would create the Great Salt Lake Wild Flamingo Sanctuary.

The vision then — and now — would be to bring in more flamingos from sources inside and outside of the country to populate the area. Leavitt never signed the proclamation.

"But he did wish us well," said Jim Platt, founder of Friends for Floyd. Platt tried to sell Leavitt on the idea that flamingos would bring more tourists to Utah.

Critics of Platt's plan fear the impact of the mass introduction of a non-native bird species on the lake, its plants, the brine shrimp population and other native birds. Because of the bird's penchant for proliferation — flocks can reach tens of thousands —some say its numbers could someday be disastrous for the Great Salt Lake's ecology.

Platt counters by saying a flamingo eats about 440 pounds of brine shrimp a year, compared to humans taking about 26 million pounds from the Great Salt Lake in a good year.

"We wouldn't do it if it would harm any flamingos," Platt said. "Ecologically, it's the perfect environment for flamingos."

Undaunted by criticism, Floyd fans are determined to see that their feathered friend has companions that are primarily pink and can fly.

So, Friday, Platt sent a letter to Gov. Olene Walker, asking for her help to pave the way for 25 Chilean flamingos to call Utah their home.

"We would like her to link us up with people in her administration to help us," Platt said. He'll need special permits to make it all happen.

Walker has seen the letter and plans to seek more information from the Department of Natural Resources, spokeswoman Amanda Covington said on Saturday.

The birds would actually be brought in from South America. Platt has a single donor — he won't say who — ready with $50,000 to cover the costs.

Platt says a university professor told him the environment would fare fine with flamingos hanging around. He also says there is even fossilized evidence that suggests flamingos were once native to this region, but that would have been at least 10,000 years ago.

"We just want to get some flamingos out there and go about our normal lives," Platt said.

A flock for Floyd may not come soon enough, though, as the life span of a flamingo is about 20 years, or twice that if kept in captivity — and we know for certain Floyd is at least 14. Sure, he's flying free now, but the days for Floyd and Friends are numbered.


E-MAIL: sspeckman@desnews.com

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