Monday, July 16, 2018
Public safety

Orlando man accused of throwing Pinky the flamingo to her death at Busch Gardens

TAMPA — Flamingos stomp their feet to bring delicious critters to the water's surface. But when Pinky did it, people were entertained. She was one of Busch Garden's animal ambassadors, danced the flamenco on TV and delighted delegates at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Pinky the flamingo died Tuesday, police said, after she was attacked by a park patron.

Tampa police said Joseph Corrao, 45, grabbed her pink-feathered body and violently slammed Pinky to the ground about 6:44 p.m. Tuesday — in front of his own mother and three children.

Pinky was badly injured, police said, one of her feet nearly severed. Busch Gardens veterinarians had to euthanize her late Tuesday. The Chilean flamingo was 19, about to turn 20 next month.

Corrao, of Orlando, was arrested on a charge of felony animal cruelty — a year and 15 days after his release from prison on charges that he shot and killed two chained dogs at point-blank range with a shotgun.

He lived in Lake City, according to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, when in 2013 he executed his neighbor's dogs — he blamed them for killing his daughter's rabbits — and threatened a witness.

Police said Corrao was visiting Busch Gardens with his family on Tuesday when he reached into an animal pen at Jambo Junction and picked up a flamingo. But he set that bird down, leaving it unharmed.

Then police said he grabbed Pinky. Tampa police it was unclear why Corrao grabbed the bird, or if alcohol was a factor. But a witness told WFTS-Ch. 28 that Corrao laughed afterward.

Hillsborough County Judge John Conrad called out Corrao during his first appearance in court Wednesday. The judge noted that Corrao's own mother, who went to Busch Gardens with the family, yelled at her grown son to put the bird down.

"It's beyond senseless," Conrad said, according to a video feed of the court hearing. "It actually borders on depraved in my opinion. . . . I don't know if have you other issues, but I don't know who does that."

He then set Corrao's bail at $5,000.

Corrao has a long history of arrests in Florida, records show, starting at the age of 25 with drug charges. He has also faced charges of hit and run, child abuse, contributing to the delinquency of a child, driving under the influence, DUI with serious bodily injury and burglary.

The day before Pinky died, Corrao wrote on Facebook about how excited he was to see a Tampa Bay Rays game with his two sons. He said they had box seats.

He wrote: "all u can drink and eat free," and "i will be tepsy tonight."

Facebook friends did not seem pleased with that status update. They told him to "behave himself" and "make a good impression for your kids."

To which Corrao responded: "I've never been to jail in Tampa."

Corrao was still being held in the Hillsborough County jail on Wednesday.

Pinky was mourned across Tampa Bay and on social media as the story of her death went viral.

"Pinky was a beloved member of the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay family and made many appearances on behalf of the park's conservation and education efforts," a park statement said. "She will be sorely missed."

It has never been easy to be a flamingo in Florida.

The birds may love the tropical climate, but at the turn of the 20th century hunting the American flamingo was at a peak, said Jerry Lorenz, state director of research for Audubon Florida.

"They were likely hunted into extinction," he said.

Flamingos have been spotted in South Florida, likely flying to Florida Bay from Mexico, according to Lorenz. But those sightings are sparse and irregular.

There aren't many Chilean flamingos like Pinky left, either. Native to South America, the Chilean birds stand between 3 to 4 feet tall and can live up to the age of 50 or so.

Busch Gardens has more than 250 flamingos on its campus, according to its website. Most roam in the "bird gardens," where visitors can't get too close.

FURTHER COVERAGE:Should Busch Gardens change how it secures its birds?

Busch Gardens spokeswoman Karen Varga-Sinka did not respond to requests for comment about whether the park will increase security around the flamingos' habitat, or answer any questions about Tuesday's incident.

Bill Androckitis, a theme park writer and enthusiast, said the pen set up for flamingos at the Jambo Junction viewing area, where Pinky was attacked, allows the birds to walk up to people.

"But usually if you put your hand out, they'll run away," he said.

A bird like Pinky probably isn't as afraid of people. She's around them more often than most birds, he said.

"Likely, it wasn't an issue for her to be approached," he said. "But I just can't, I don't understand.

"To do that to any animal in the wild or in Busch Gardens is a despicable thing."

Times senior news researcher John Martin and staff writer Claire McNeill contributed to this report. Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.

     
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