A longtime feathered resident of Sunset Zoo died of old age recently, zoo officials announced Tuesday.
Milford, an American White Pelican, died on April 9 related to age-related medical conditions that the K-State Exotics program had been monitoring. Zookeepers estimated his age to be between 36 and 40 years, whereas the average lifespan of a pelican in the wild is 15 to 25 years.
“He was quite the diva,” said Savannah Brethauer, head keeper at Sunset Zoo. “The public used to love to watch the keepers try and feed him because it was like shooting into a big basketball hoop, and it was so much fun.”
Milford lived at Sunset Zoo for 18 years. His name is based on Milford State Park, where he was found injured. He lived at Clay Center Zoo for nearly a decade before briefly spending some time at Milford Nature Center in Junction City. He then moved to Sunset Zoo in 2003.
Trevor Smith, Milford’s keeper for the last two years, said the pelican was friendly, goofy and a bit vain.
“Sometimes he would just fluff up as if to say, ‘Look at me,’” Smith said. “He just knew he was looking pretty good.”
Keepers said Milford had bonded with a couple other birds at the zoo, first a black-necked swan named Debbie, then Lucy, a Canada Goose. Brethauer said Lucy and Milford would build a nest each year thought the eggs never hatched because they weren’t fertilized.
“They built a nest every year,” Brethauer said. “He would share nesting duties. She would sit on the nest and then every couple of days, she would come off the nest, and he would sit on the eggs. She would go down and eat and do her thing for a couple of days and then they would switch. He would help build the nest.”
The zoo donated Milford’s remains to the K-State Veterinary School for study. Brethauer said the school usually makes a clay footprint of the animal to give to the zoo as a remembrance.
“For a lot of people he was just a bird, but he left a big impact on us,” Brethauer said.
The zoo is working through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to acquire pelicans again.