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THE NATION

Quixotic Quest to Find Friends for Flamingo

March 30, 2003|From Associated Press

SALTAIR, Utah — Long-legged, pink flamingo seeking same to share friendship, food and freedom.

That's the personal classified ad that a lonely flamingo living on the Great Salt Lake may have been thinking about for the last 15 years, said Jim Platt, who has made it his mission to acquire friends for the bird, nicknamed "Pink Floyd."

Since Floyd flew the coop from Salt Lake City's Tracy Aviary, it's been gloriously free, but painfully alone.

Its only pals are a pack of seagulls and the tourists who snap his picture. Floyd has become a local legend, appearing frequently in winter as a flash of pink on the otherwise drab horizons of the lake.

"I know what freedom is, and I think Floyd is having that experience," Platt said. "I'd like him to be friends with others who are having that same experience. They could breed and be a wild flock."

Platt, the owner of Dancing Cranes Imports, offered to buy -- and release -- the remaining flamingos from the aviary for $1,000 each but he was politely turned down. The aviary called the proposition irresponsible and potentially disruptive to the lake's delicate ecosystem. And despite the name, no one knows whether Floyd is male or female.

Floyd is a Chilean flamingo, hailing from high Andes lakes with conditions similar to those at the Great Salt Lake -- high salt content, cold winters and hot summers.

Scientists and bird-watchers know Floyd is healthy because he's bright pink, from the color of the brine shrimp he eats. Brine shrimp are all that can live in the lake because of its extreme salinity.

Platt is waging a public campaign to get the governor to declare the Great Salt Lake a pink flamingo sanctuary. He hopes every state in the nation will donate a bird.

"It could be America's flamingos on the Great Salt Lake," he said. "It could be a tourist attraction."

Platt recently took out a quarter-page pink ad in a local newspaper asking people to contact the governor in support of the flamingo sanctuary. Nearly 260 people wrote in, 235 of them from an elementary school class.

Gov. Mike O. Leavitt hasn't made up his mind, said spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour. But he's taking his lead from the state experts, and they're less than enthusiastic.

"I don't think we want to have any chance of them getting started as a breeding species on the Great Salt Lake," said Frank Howe, avian program coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources.

"If we could look at having some guarantees that flamingos would not procreate out there, then we might be more amenable to the idea," he said.

"But the idea of releasing any wildlife that is not native to the area is courting ecological disaster. We don't want the Great Salt Lake to be a proving ground for that."

Environmentalists cite pigeons, starlings and sparrows as examples of nonnative species that have become pests.

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