Tiki’s Great Escape

1 year ago Nicholas Rodriguez 0

On June 9th, Tiki, a soft keel-billed toucan, escaped Flamingo Gardens in Davie, Florida.

Michael Ruggieri, Director of Animal Care, said that a keeper opened the door of Tiki’s cage and accidentally bent over to grab a bucket from the ground, giving Tiki full access to fly over her head.

By: Vanessa Adrian and Amarilys Beltran
South Florida Uncovered
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“Unfortunately, she had already eaten so we were unable to coax her with food,” Ruggieri said.

Since Tiki’s belly was full, she began her journey flying over the loose peacocks at the entrance of the conservatory and took off to her first destination. She was ready to explore the neighborhood.

The History

Flamingo Gardens is a 60-acre botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary. It’s home to over 3,000 species of the largest and most exotic trees including champion trees as well as Florida native animals like alligators, panthers, otters, flamingos, bobcats and more.

Tiki is one of the many animals at Flamingo Gardens. She was originally a house pet that was purchased by a woman who wanted a mate for her male toucan, but things didn’t go as planned.

Apparently, the male toucan didn’t know how to treat a lady.

“When she put the two together, the male toucan beat Tiki up,” Ruggieri said. “He tore her wing and she had a big laceration underneath it which had to be wrapped and medicated every day.”

She immediately separated the two and sought out a new home for Tiki. Initially, she was supposed to go to another facility but the team at Flamingo Gardens grew very fond of her. While the organization typically only rescues native wildlife, they took her in last year and made her a part of the Flamingo Gardens family.

The Chase

Ruggieri spent the following days on a wild chase game after Tiki. He received phone calls every day from people who had spotted her.

“One of the days, I took off chasing after Tiki for three hours, sweated really bad and had a heat stroke,” Ruggieri said. “I was seeing purple stars, and everything turned yellow. I almost killed myself chasing her by some warehouses.”

Ruggieri said that at this time of year there are fruit trees in almost every corner, so he knew he didn’t have to worry about her starving.

“Our biggest concern was a bird of prey taking her down,” Ruggieri said. “While she was sleeping, a big horned owl or a cooper hawk could’ve gone after her. Even local mockingbirds and crows could’ve pestered her to scare her far away.”

Although she was spotted in different locations, Tiki still remained within a 6-mile radius of Flamingo Gardens.

Ruggieri had many opportunities to capture the elusive Tiki. “I almost caught her one time by the warehouses along i-75,” he said.

Tiki was sitting on a tree branch that was 5 feet off the ground. He got out of his car and walked over to her slowly trying to lure her in with bananas.

“I put food on the branch and then she did a really big ol’ nice poop for me,” Ruggieri said. “So, she clearly was finding food out there, and just having a good ol’ time then.”

Just when he was about to grab her, Tiki flew away after a man pulled his car over just to take a picture of the bird.

“I stood there frozen saying to myself where did this man come from!” Ruggieri said. “I was so close to getting her too!”

With over two weeks of trying to capture Tiki, Ruggieri got a call from Don Harris on June 19th, an Afghan War veteran living in Plantation Acres, who spotted Tiki eating off of his fruit trees.

“He has every fruit tree you could think of,” Ruggieri said. “She lucked out!”

Harris is an animal lover and has a reputation of rescuing pit bulls from different pounds in Miami. He takes the pitbulls to out of state facilities where they don’t put them down.

“It’s just really nice that someone wanted to get her back to us knowing she’s an exotic bird and could’ve sold her for a lot of money,” said Ruggieri.

Since Tiki was used to being hand fed by humans, Ruggieri told Harris to give her fruits in a stainless-steel bowl to lure her down.


On the following morning of June 20th, Harris took Tiki back home to Flamingo Gardens.

“We were just thrilled to have her back,” Ruggieri said.

Upon returning, they clipped a few of Tiki’s wings to prevent another escape.

“She can still fly just not as far or as high as before,” Ruggieri said. “She will molt out feathers and it will grow back, but the curator thought it would be best for right now.”

They are also taking additional steps to ensure the safety of their animals by having more employee and volunteer training sessions as well as, building a new habitat for Tiki.

A fundraiser was started by Keith Clark, Executive Director of Flamingo Gardens, to raise funds to build Tiki a new habitat. They managed to pass their goal and raised $3,118 in just two days.

“Funds raised will be used to build a larger cage so that she will have more room to fly and live a long, healthy, happy life here at Flamingo Gardens,” Clark said. “The new habitat will be at least 8′ high and deep and at least 16′ long (hopefully 20′) so she has more room to fly and can accommodate a companion soft-billed bird with her.”

With Flamingo Gardens reaching its 100-year anniversary, they’re undertaking many renovations.

“The first phase of that plan is to build a new Welcome Center with increased parking and new visitor facilities, along with administration offices and multipurpose classroom/meeting spaces,” said Clark. “Part of that vision is to move the parrot aviaries and Tiki’s new habitat, now in the courtyard, into the Arboretum of the gardens.”

They’re hoping that the renovations will be completed by 2020.

Clark said, hopefully, if another bird is rescued or surrendered to the wildlife sanctuary Tiki can finally have the companion she’s ever so longed for.