On June 9, Tiki, a soft keel-billed toucan, escaped Flamingo Gardens in Davie.
Michael Ruggieri, Director of Animal Care, said that a keeper opened the door of Tiki’s cage and accidentally bent over to grab a bucket from the ground, giving Tiki full access to fly over her head.
“Unfortunately, she had already eaten so we were unable to coax her with food,” Ruggieri said.
Since Tiki’s belly was full, she began her journey flying over the loose peacocks at the entrance of the conservatory and took off to her first destination. She was ready to explore the neighborhood.
Flamingo Gardens is a 60-acre botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary. It’s home to over 3,000 species of the largest and most exotic trees including champion trees as well as Florida native animals like alligators, panthers, otters, flamingos, bobcats and more.
Tiki is one of the many animals at Flamingo Gardens. She was originally a house pet that was purchased by a woman who wanted a mate for her male toucan, but things didn’t go as planned.
Apparently, the male toucan didn’t know how to treat a lady.
“When she put the two together, the male toucan beat Tiki up,” Ruggieri said. “He tore her wing and she had a big laceration underneath it which had to be wrapped and medicated every day.”
She immediately separated the two and sought out a new home for Tiki. Initially, she was supposed to go to another facility but the team at Flamingo Gardens grew very fond of her. While the organization typically only rescues native wildlife, they took her in last year and made her a part of the Flamingo Gardens family.
Ruggieri spent the following days on a wild chase game after Tiki. He received phone calls every day from people who had spotted her.
“One of the days, I took off chasing after Tiki for three hours, sweated really bad and had a heat stroke,” Ruggieri said. “I was seeing purple stars, and everything turned yellow. I almost killed myself chasing her by some warehouses.”
Ruggieri said that at this time of year there are fruit trees in almost every corner, so he knew he didn’t have to worry about her starving.
“Our biggest concern was a bird of prey taking her down,” Ruggieri said. “While she was sleeping, a big horned owl or a cooper hawk could’ve gone after her. Even local mockingbirds and crows could’ve pestered her to scare her far away.”
Although she was spotted in different locations, Tiki still remained within a 6-mile radius of Flamingo Gardens.
Ruggieri had many opportunities to capture the elusive Tiki. “I almost caught her one time by the warehouses along i-75,” he said.
Tiki was sitting on a tree branch that was 5 feet off the ground. He got out of his car and walked over to her slowly trying to lure her in with bananas.
This piece was originally published on July 17 by the South Florida Media Network. Visit that site for the full story.