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Fans propose statue, legislation in honor of Flaco the owl’s legacy


(NEW YORK) — Just days after the untimely death of Flaco, the Eurasian eagle owl who became world famous after escaping from his vandalized enclosure at New York City’s Central Park Zoo, fans and politicians are proposing ideas to preserve his legacy, including erecting a statue in honor of the fugitive fowl.

A petition had already garnered more than 2,300 signatures as of Tuesday, calling on the city and park officials to create a permanent memorial of the beloved apex predator near one of his favorite Central Park trees.

“I think the legacy of Flaco is he turned a lot of people into bird enthusiasts. He turned a lot of people onto the joy of looking around, viewing the city not as just a concrete jungle,” Manhattan resident Brandon Borror-Chappell, who along with his friend, Mike Hubbard, started the petition on Sunday, told ABC News.

Hubbard noted that the only other statue honoring a famous real-life animal is the bronze sculpture of Balto, the Alaskan sled dog who in 1925 became a national cause célèbre for leading a team of mushers on the last leg of a 700-mile trek through a blizzard to deliver vaccine to Nome, Alaska, where a diphtheria outbreak was threatening the population.

Unlike Flaco, Balto had no previous connection to New York City other than attending the unveiling ceremony of his statue.

“This is a uniquely New York story,” the 34-year-old Hubbard said of Flaco’s yearlong saga, which captured worldwide attention. “I just think it could only happen here. It was so crazy, funny, it was huge, it was inspiring. It had like a dangerous edge to it. That could only happen here.”

Borror-Cappell, 33, who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Central Park, said Flaco inspired scores of New Yorkers like no other animal before him with the resilience he showed in his quest to live as a free bird.

“He was confined for 13 years and yet when he became his natural self, there was something in him that was unchanged by that confinement,” Borror-Cappell said. “It was so cool to see him figure out how to be an owl.”

Borror-Cappell said that if the statue doesn’t pan out, he still has mementos of Flaco he’ll cherish forever — rodent bones he found in pellets regurgitated by Flaco and found beneath one of the bird’s favorite trees in the North Woods of Central Park.

“I brought them home and I bleached them in peroxide a couple of times, and now I have a collection of little white rat bones that are hygienic and were in the real Flaco’s belly and coughed up in his pellet.”

Flaco died Friday evening after apparently colliding with a building on West 89th Street in Manhattan, according to a statement from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which runs the Central Park Zoo. Residents of the building reported the downed owl to the Wild Bird Fund (WBF), which quickly responded, but Flaco was nonresponsive and declared dead shortly afterward.

The initial findings from a necropsy performed Saturday are consistent with death due to “acute traumatic injury,” WCS officials said.

Two local elected leaders are also trying to preserve Flaco’s legacy with a renewed push for two pieces of legislation to increase protections for birds in New York. One of the bills, the Bird Safe Buildings Act, is being renamed the FLACO Act, also a clever acronym for “Feathered Lives Also Count.”

The FLACO Act would require any new or significantly altered state buildings to incorporate bird-friendly designs, particularly in their windows. Backers of the bill say that nearly 250,000 birds in New York City die each year from collisions with buildings.

A second piece of legislation, the Dark Skies Protection Act, would protect migrating birds from becoming disoriented by bright lights in New York by requiring most non-essential outdoor lighting be covered by an external shield, be motion-activated, or be turned off between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

“I’m gutted at the death of Flaco the owl, who delighted countless New Yorkers through his presence in Central Park,” state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who introduced the FLACO ACT, said in a statement.

Hoylman-Sigal, whose district includes the west side of Manhattan, added, “By renaming our legislation to require state-owned buildings to incorporate bird-friendly designs, we’ll not only honor this magnificent creature, but hopefully inspire our legislative colleagues to pass both the FLACO Act and the Dark Skies Protection Act.”

Meanwhile, volunteers scrambled Tuesday ahead of a rainstorm to collect artifacts left at a memorial for Flaco in Central Park.

“We want to preserve the letters and photos, and even paintings that people have left behind in honor of Flaco,” David Barrett, the creator and manager of Manhattan Bird Alert, the go-to New York bird watchers’ social media site boasting more than 91,000 followers on X (formally known as Twitter), told ABC News. “This is something we’ll want to remember, the time that brought people together in the love of Flaco.”

The zoo officials said the vandal who, on the evening of Feb. 2, 2023, cut open the stainless steel mesh of Flaco’s enclosure, enabling the owl to bolt into the wilds of the concrete jungle, is ultimately responsible for his death.

“The vandal who damaged Flaco’s exhibit jeopardized the safety of the bird and is ultimately responsible for his death. We are still hopeful that the NYPD, which is investigating the vandalism, will ultimately make an arrest,” the WCS said in a statement.

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