A Malaysian stork, one of only four in captivity in the world and almost as rare as the giant panda, was killed by a fire that destroyed a barn at the Franklin Park Zoo Wednesday night.
The bird, known as a greater adjutant stork, and two snowy owls had been quartered in the one-story barn while zoo workers were restoring the birds’ usual quarters. Those were badly damaged in a blizzard April 1, said Jean Bochnowski, the zoo’s vice president for marketing.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, she said. It was reported by a resident who lives across the street from the Hooves and Horns exhibit where the three birds had been housed.
She said the loss of the stork, named Harry when he arrived at the zoo as an adult in 1972, has affected the zoo staff like the loss of a loved one.
John Linehan, the zoo’s vice president for collections, said that Harry had been one of two such storks in the United States. There is another, also a male, in the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, and two others in European zoos.
He estimated that “perhaps a couple thousand” such birds remain in the wild, making them one of the most endangered species. Wildlife specialists have estimated that about 1,000 giant pandas still live wild in the bamboo forests of southern China.
The stork, which stands more than four feet high when fully grown, is a superb flyer and a carrion eater, much like a vulture, which it resembles except for its huge beak, Linehan said.
Harry’s wings had been clipped of their large feathers, so he was unable to fly, but Linehan said that this did not inhibit the bird’s predatory impulses. “He could stand there, spread his wings, and suddenly lurch forward when a pigeon came within reach and snap it up and swallow it whole,” he said.
The zoo’s staff was never able to get a female for Harry to mate with, so the zoo never learned whether it was possible to breed the species in captivity.