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From the day he was hatched at a breeding center in North Carolina to the night he fell from the sky into an Upper West Side courtyard, every moment of Flaco's life was observed, mediated, and constrained by humans. The same could be said of any captive or domestic animal, and of a shocking number of wild animals. But few illustrate the uneasy dominance of the Anthropocene as succinctly as the Eurasian eagle-owl who fled from the zoo, lived on the run, and died by our hand just as surely as if he had been shot with a rifle.

Flaco was found Friday night by a building superintendent, facedown and motionless. “I thought it was a rock,” the super said. “I came closer and I saw: Owl.” Help was sought and rescuers arrived, but it was too late. Flaco, who had delighted New York City residents for a year with his puckish truancy and improbable survival, was dead, three weeks shy of his 14th birthday.

A collision with a window was fingered as the immediate culprit, and logically so. We invented windows much more quickly than birds could evolve the ability to recognize them. The sky reflects off the glass yet the birds see only sky, and they fly into it to fracture their skulls or shatter their spines. Up to one billion birds die from window strikes each year in this country alone. The back rooms of the Wild Bird Fund, Flaco's first responders, are full of those few that survive.

The necropsy, however—and it feels telling that we use a different word when a necropsy is performed on a human corpse—complicates Flaco's end. The Central Park Zoo announced that an initial examination found little to no trauma to Flaco's head, which would would have been expected in a window strike. Instead, "[t]he main impact appears to have been to the body, as there was substantial hemorrhage under the sternum and in the back of the body cavity around the liver." This is not the story of a bird that flew into a window; this appears to be the story of a bird who fell from his perch and died from smashing into the ground. Security camera footage from the building where he died showed Flaco plummeting. That is not something that happens to a healthy owl in the prime of life.

So, then, some further speculation, pending the toxicology report. Life in the city is hard for predators, because we scatter poisons around like so much fodder. Pigeons ingest lead, raptors eat the pigeons, then they die. Or: Rats eat rodenticide, raptors eat the rats, then they die. This is what happened to the last celebrity owl in New York. In making life safe and comfortable for us, we have made it dangerous to be wild.

Flaco never knew what it meant to be wild, even if the old instincts still dwelt within. He was born on March 15, 2010, at Sylvan Heights Bird Park, the seventh of 20 owlets born over a nine-year period to Xena and Watson. All of this is tracked and traced in annual studbooks published by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums—what, you think your local zoo just stumbles across those animals behind its bars? We know, thanks to this publication, that Flaco's siblings are scattered across the country. If you want, you can go see his brother Stan in Florida, or his sister Gertrude at the Dallas Zoo. Flaco would not have known, but his younger brother has spent the last decade at the Bronx Zoo—just seven miles away, as the owl flies.

Xena and Watson were themselves second-generation captives. Xena's parents were Martina and Sinbad; Watson's parents, Owl 35 and Owl 36, were not favored with names. You have to go back to 1990 in the studbook to find the first owl in this lineage with an uncertain birth. His parents were likely wild, meaning they might have lived anywhere from Portugal to the Sea of Okhotsk, Scandinavia to the Arabian Sea. A full quarter of the globe is the Eurasian eagle-owl's to roam. Flaco's great-grandsire once flew truly free; Flaco was where he was because the business of breeding exotic animals in America is an established one. It exists, its proponents would say, for educational purposes, but it is a lucrative one too: only a few of the places hosting Flaco's family members are non-profits. Either way, Flaco's species is here in North America only because we decided it should be. And what man says, goes.

Flaco was sent to New York when he was two months old. Initially he had an outdoor habitat, amid snow monkeys and red pandas. Later he was consigned to a smaller enclosure, near the penguins, with some sunlight but surrounded by three walls and a fourth of stainless-steel mesh. His freeing by a still-unknown vandal, even as he was released into a city that would surely kill him, was treated as a liberation. And how could it not be? Look at a photo of Flaco in the cage in which he spent 13 years and I see a tragedy. This is a bird. It needs to fly.

Uncomfortable thoughts start creeping in. Are zoos, then, a tragedy, an outrage, a very human inhumanity? There are people who think so. I was never among them, and even now, I find it hard to go fully over to that side. I enjoy seeing animals I'd never see otherwise; it makes me care about them and their kind; conservation societies do lots of good work, and use the proceeds of their zoos to fund them. Education has to be worth something. But is it worth imprisoning—and it'd be dishonest to use another word—an unlucky few who were bred in and for captivity, to potentially improve the lives of larger numbers still in the wild? Are we now in an Omelasian ethical morass? Cheering Flaco's escape requires some ambivalence toward the existence of the thing he escaped from.

Even when freed, Flaco was still stuck in a world shaped by humans. The urban park he colonized was another artificial environment meant to mimic the wild. Every rat and every pigeon he ate were only on this continent because our ancestors brought them over the sea. Every tree he slept in was planted by human hands. It makes sense that he saw no difference between perching on an elm or a water tower or a bulldozer; all were deliberately placed there to serve our needs, though they did just fine for his. His instincts betrayed him only one way. Most evenings, he would fly to a high point and begin hooting. He was searching for a mate, but there were no others of his kind out there to hear him.

Kelsey was right when she wrote that we received so much from Flaco during his brief time with us: the chance to exult in his defiance and his mettle; the chance to occasionally remember "that beauty exists in the world, to be reawakened to the small things around [us]." I want to remember that, but I also want to remember the other side of the coin, how much we changed his life: entirely, and if not always for the worse, then largely. This blog is not a polemic, nor, even, really, a criticism of how mankind warps the Earth to its will—might as well ask the sun not to rise or an owl not to hoot! It is rather an observation, and a reminder to try to be more conscious of our hand in everything we see. Flaco tried to be a wild animal as best he knew how, but he never could have been: There was no wild left.

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