If you're in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao and you see what looks like a flamingo in the driver's seat of a car, don't worry. That’s just Bob.
As part of the Caribbean flamingo's duties as an ambassador for the local nonprofit Fundashon Dier en Onderwijs Cariben, Bob has jetted around town in the lap of his owner and veterinarian Odette Doest.
Wildlife photographer Jasper Doest—and Odette's cousin–has captured this and more of shenanigans from Bob's life as spokesbird for the island wildlife sanctuary, which takes in all kinds of animals in need.
Bob joins Odette Doest behind the steering wheel as she drives him to a school where he will participate in an education program.
Odette founded the wildlife sanctuary in 2016 to support her growing number of rescues, including Bob, who had flown into a hotel window the same year and suffered a concussion.
"He was so calm when I brought him into the practice, he was almost relieved to be with us"—a clue that he was once a captive animal, Odette says. (See "Surprising Origins of American Flamingos Discovered.")
Bob also had bumblefoot, a condition in which foot sores develop from standing for long periods on a flat surface like concrete. Because flamingos need their feet to stir up crustaceans and other food from the sand, Bob's disease made foraging difficult, and he was severely underweight.
Though most of her animals are returned to the wild, Odette felt it was safer for Bob to stay permanently at the sanctuary and help spread the word that Curaçao's wildlife is beautiful and worth appreciating.
Bob visits schools and other venues on Curaçao, giving his human companions a rare chance to connect locals with the diverse local birds that share their island.
"Most of them have never seen an animal like that up close, and then all of a sudden a live flamingo that's taller than you comes walking into this classroom—so that's very exciting,” says Jasper. (Learn more about National Geographic's Year of the Bird.)
Fascinated kids learn to appreciate wild flamingos from afar—and especially not to pester them in the places where they feed.
"It’s like bad food at a restaurant," Odette says. "They won't go there anymore."
THE YEAR OF THE BIRD
In 1918 Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect birds from wanton killing. To celebrate the centennial, National Geographic is partnering with the National Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to declare 2018 the Year of the Bird. Watch for more stories, maps, books, events, and social media content throughout the year.
Once, when Odette asked producers at a morning TV show if she could bring a flamingo, they thought she meant the plastic kind. (Read about a mysterious flamingo that ended up in San Diego.)
"The host was stunned when Bob entered the the studio," says Jasper, who photographs wildlife around the world.
He appreciates his cousin's educational efforts, too. "She talks about something very important in the local community and that’s family, telling the kids to respect Bob's friends and relatives when they see them."
You Are Not Alone
For a newly rescued bird, the stress of being in an all-human environment can be as bad as an injury—but Bob gives back as a great companion animal, Jasper notes.
Most birds take almost a week to adapt to their new surroundings, but George, a Caribbean flamingo attacked by a dog, got used to his new digs in a day, Odette says. She believes that Bob helped calm George, and even showed him how to feed from a bucket. (Read about a jet-black flamingo spotted in Cyprus.)
Bob also seemed to help another flamingo injured in an oil spill, which was later released.
Odette says she prefers an animal be released back into its native habitat, but for Bob, he seems to be in the pink just where he is.