(I wrote this story a few years ago after reading a news report of a parrot missing from the Philadelphia Zoo, at about the same time a pig went on the lam in Florida. What writer could resist such a set-up!)
After four days on the lam, a missing parrot from the Philadelphia Zoo was back at Bird Lake for a bath, a bite to eat and a reunion with its flock. (Tom Infield, Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer, July 25, 2009)
Roaming Free in Florida, A Pig Gains Local Fame (Headline, NY Times, July 24th, 2009)
Day One: I have done it. I have flown the coop, or the perch, or whatever you want to call the man-made prison that has been my home these past few months. I think they mean well, but this place they call Philadelphia, with its hordes of corpulent sweaty screaming humans is really too much to bear. Even though I am one of the ones born in captivity (oh, how I despise that phrase!) the beat of my native Brazil, home of my ancestors, pulses deep inside me. I believe you would love it there as well. It is my deepest desire to get there, especially before this dreadful thing they call winter comes.
I have been following the news articles of the past few months about your life on the lam in Panama City (they often line the shelves in our habitats with newspaper), and these have given me the courage to bolt. I cannot tell from photos how large an animal a feral pig might be, but I hope we might be companionable. They say you have eluded authorities for months, even after being tasered and shot with tranquilizer darts. Kudos, my friend. (I hope I may indeed call you my friend, as I believe my longing to be free has been so greatly inspired by your own raw courage.) Today shall be the day.
Day Two: I have done it. Yesterday afternoon during the Festival of Flight show, I faked everyone out. And they say we have birdbrains, like that’s something bad. For months now, day after unrelenting day, my “trainer” has been “teaching” me how to fly from his hand to a little perch in the middle of Bird Lake (I guess they couldn’t come up with anything more original!). I could have done this so-called “trick” the first day, but the older guys told me not to blow their cover. Apparently, the longer you draw these things out, the better the food incentives.
At any rate, as I was winging it toward my designated perch, your newsprint image came rushing back to me – your beady eyes, your porcine snout, your four-legged tough-guy stance (of course, I’m only assuming you are a guy – and it wouldn’t matter to me) and I thought to myself, if not now, when! So, right in the flurry of activity, as my fellow avian performers provided an unwitting distraction, I simply kept going. It did strike me as I glided over treetops, stopping every now and again for a rest, that I did not know how to get to where you are in this place called Florida, but a voice said to me, “Go south, young man.” It was very mystical, and confirmed my sense that this was my destiny. I had seen my chance and taken it. I am a sun conure, damn it. We are a proud breed; inquisitive, social and very intelligent. I hope you are from a similar stellar lineage, although it was difficult to tell from the newspaper photo. Your eyes looked a little close together and dull. Ah well, perhaps I can be the brains of the operation, and you can provide the brawn. (I hope you won’t take offense at this suggestion.)
Day Three: It has been an exhausting expedition. After I left my confinement area, I had a difficult time finding trees suitable for concealment. Also, food was a problem. Perhaps I was a little too hasty in leaving, but then again, I see the dull complacency of the older birds, doing their silly tricks for a handful of seed, and I think to myself I have done the right thing. I have youth and freedom on my side, and you to inspire me. They say you have shaken off your captors for five months now! If you can only hang on until I get there to Panama City, we will make quite a team. That thought keeps me going in spite of my hunger and loneliness. I must also remember that demeaning statement one of the trainers made to a crowd of school children, as I sat so very politely on her slim wrist. She said, “The sun conure is really nothing more than a common parrot.” I gave her a little nip on that one.
Day Four: Well, my friend, I have some sad news to report. After flying bravely over a very large body of water – at first I thought it might be the mighty Amazon, but then I noticed the racing shells and realized I must still be in Philadelphia – I had only passed over the Schuylkill River. That debilitating thought, along with my hunger and loneliness, caused my hope and determination to waver. It was in this desperate state that I got to the other side of the river.
Perched on a lower branch of a Japanese maple tree, I was spotted by a small group of humans below me (I believe it may be what they call a family). They gestured to me in a friendly manner, and being the sociable fellow that I am, I flew down to the outstretched hand of one of them. I am not proud of this moment in my life – a moment when hunger and isolation drove me back to my captors – but I have made peace with my decision. I will rest, fatten up on seed, and plot my next break. So, my comrade, keep your beady little eyes open for a flash of emerald green, scarlet and yellow. That will be moi, free at last, winging it south.