Flaco the Owl Escaped the Central Park Zoo — and Has Been Happily Living on His Own Since

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Feb. 20 2023, Updated 9:26 a.m. ET

Flaco the owl photographed in Central Park.
Source: Getty Images

In February 2023, Central Park Zoo officials were riddled with concern after Flaco the owl's mesh enclosure was vandalized and he was freed. The 13-year-old Eurasian eagle owl had been in captivity for his entire life, and it wasn't clear if he was able to survive on his own. However, it seems like he's living a better life than any bird could have at a zoo.

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“A major concern for everyone at the beginning was whether Flaco would be able to hunt and eat,” the Wildlife Conservation Society stated via The New York Times. But because he has successfully been able to catch his own prey, they are no longer worried about his well-being.

“That is no longer a concern,” they said.

Here's what you need to know about Flaco the owl's daring adventure — plus, how he's doing on his own.

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In February 2023, Flaco the owl was freed from the Central Park Zoo.

It's unclear why Flaco was put in captivity in the first place, but as previously mentioned, it's what he's been accustomed to for his 13 years of life. As per NPR, he quickly adjusted to hunting for food on his own — he's been eating rats and other New York City wildlife. He has also gotten used to flying around on his own, as he's been spotted along Billionaire Row in Central Park, and along Fifth Avenue.

Eurasian eagle owls are not native to North America. Scott Weidensaul, an author who researches owls, told NPR that having him occupy the park could make it more difficult for native owl species to establish a home there.

"I'd hate to have [a large, non-native owl] occupying space in Central Park where native owl species might conceivably, eventually be able to establish themselves," Weidensaul told the publication. Many also think he'd be safer in captivity.

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Nevertheless, the zoo attempted to lure him back in with familiar foods, and the NYPD came close to capturing him on Fifth Avenue. However, he (understandably) had no interest in going back. Flaco is a free bird and a Central Park legend, drawing hundreds of people to watch and photograph him when they get the chance to do so.

Flaco the owl sitting in a tree in Central Park in February 2023.
Source: Getty Images
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After proving able to sustain himself, Flaco has remained happily free in New York City.

After proving himself able to hunt, fly, and survive on his own, Flaco the (former) Central Park Zoo owl has been given permission to remain wild. According to Huff Post, the zoo announced they were halting recovery operations for the time being. If it seems as though he is struggling at any point, they will attempt to lure him back to the zoo.

Hunting isn't his only strong suit — the Wildlife Conservation Society also noted “a rapid improvement in his flight skills and ability to confidently maneuver around the park.”

“We will continue to monitor him, though not as intensely, and look to opportunistically recover him when the situation is right,” the society added.

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Flaco the Owl pictured with a squirrel in a tree in Central Park.
Source: Getty Images

Flaco's living conditions at the zoo were less than ideal.

In a one-year retrospective piece about Flaco's exit from the Central Park Zoo, animal advocates spoke to the Associated Press (AP) about why they're relieved Flaco has not been returned to the zoo.

Nicole Barrantes, a wildlife campaign manager with World Animal Protection, said, "I wouldn’t be surprised if it was someone who loved Flaco and wanted him free. His habitat was ridiculous. It was the saddest thing ever."

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The AP accessed internal emails from the Central Park Zoo via the Freedom of Information act, which revealed that zoo officials wanted to "soften" descriptions of Flaco's old home to the press — which was "a minivan-sized structure decorated with a painted mountain vista, barely twice the width of Flaco’s extended wings."

As of writing, no one has come forward to claim responsibility for the vandalism that led to Flaco's release.

Flaco the owl photographed in a tree in Central Park.
Source: Getty Images
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Why have so many animals been escaping from zoos?

Flaco wasn't the only zoo animal to have his enclosure vandalized, leading to his escape. In fact, in early February 2023, the Dallas Zoo had two monkeys escape, after a number of animals were reported missing or dead.

So why does this keep happening?

While the incidents don't seem to be related, it's clear that zoos have a number of issues regarding animal safety. That said, you should consider supporting an animal sanctuary instead.

This article, originally published on Feb. 16, 2023, has been updated.

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