The Eurasian owl escaped from its destroyed enclosure on February 2, 2023.
The Eurasian owl escaped from its destroyed enclosure on February 2, 2023.

Flacco, the Eurasian owl who escaped from his vandalized enclosure at the Central Park Zoo in February 2023, had high levels of rat poison in his body and suffered from a “severe herpes virus” contracted by eating pigeons , when he died last month in Manhattan.

The post-mortem report was released on Monday afternoon by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which runs New York’s Central Park Zoo, revealing its findings on the cause of Flacco’s death on February 23 of this year when he was found seriously wounded in the courtyard of an apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

“Veterinary pathologists at the Bronx Zoo determined that in addition to the traumatic injuries, Flacco had two significant underlying conditions. He had severe pigeon herpes virus from eating feral pigeons that became part of his diet and exposure to four different anticoagulant rodenticides commonly used to control rats in New York,” the Society said in a statement. wildlife conservation. “These factors would have been debilitating and ultimately fatal, even without a traumatic injury, and may have predisposed him to fly into or fall from the building.”

Zoo officials said the herpesvirus identified can be carried by healthy pigeons but can cause fatal illnesses in birds of prey, including owls, which can be infected by eating pigeons.

“This virus has previously been detected in pigeons and owls in New York,” WCS said in a statement. “In Flacco’s case, the viral infection caused severe tissue damage and inflammation in many organs, including the spleen, liver, gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow and brain.”

No other contributing factors to Flacco’s death have been identified from the “extensive testing that has been performed,” WCS said.

“Flaco’s severe illness and death ultimately resulted from a combination of factors — infectious disease, toxin exposure and traumatic injury — that highlight the dangers wild birds face, particularly in urban environments,” the zoo official said.

Toxicology tests also revealed traces of DDE, a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT, WCS said.

“But the levels found in Flaco were not clinically significant and did not contribute to his death,” WCS said. “Although DDT has been banned in the United States since the early 1970s, it and its breakdown products are extremely persistent in the environment, and this discovery is a reminder of DDT’s long legacy and its dire effects on wild bird populations .”

WCS initially said preliminary autopsy results indicated Flacco died after crashing into a building, leaving him with “significant hemorrhaging” under his sternum and around his liver. No bone fractures were found in the initial report.

David Barrett, creator and manager of Bird Alert in Manhattanthe New York bird social media site, told ABC News on Monday that the autopsy results “will provide some closure to many people who have waited a long time for these results.”

Barrett, who tracked nearly every movement of Flacco during his year at large and took thousands of videos and photos of the owl, said the autopsy results confirmed what he suspected in the final days of Flacco’s life. He said that in the four days before Flacco died, he and other birders noticed that the raptor had stopped screaming.

“Flacco appeared ill or injured in the days leading up to his death. That’s another reason why I didn’t think the collision was really the cause of death, that there was any underlying condition,” Barrett said. “So now we know that there were indeed two serious underlying conditions that Flacco had that would have been fatal to him regardless of what happened that Friday night.”

He said that while rodenticide poisoning is common among raptors, the pigeon virus is surprising because he has seen many red-tailed hawks eat pigeons but not die as a result.

“It appears to be the primary cause of death because it causes inflammation in his organs,” Barrett said of Flacco’s autopsy results.

Dubbed “the world’s most famous owl,” Flacco became a cause célèbre during the year he spent as a free bird after he escaped from his zoo exhibit on February 2, 2023, when a vandal cut a hole in the stainless steel mesh covering his exhibit, police and zoo officials said at the time. No arrests have been made in the vandalism, but the NYPD said the investigation is ongoing.

While in the wilds of the concrete jungle, Flacco continued to draw crowds as his survival and flying skills rapidly improved and the territory he explored expanded all the way to downtown Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

After committing resources to recapturing the bird, zoo officials released a statement on February 12, 2023, saying they were scaling back recovery efforts after noticing that Flacco was successfully hunting prey.

“A few days ago we observed him successfully hunting, catching and consuming prey. We saw a rapid improvement in his flying skills and his ability to maneuver confidently around the park,” zoo officials said at the time.

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