Recently, we said goodbye to our last remaining black stork, Salvador. Sal lived an incredible and memorable life, and I feel compelled to share his story – a story filled with drama, devotion, and trailblazing.
Sal was imported by the FWCZ from Romania in 1989 when he was just a year old. After more than ten years of searching for the perfect mate, he met the girl of his dreams, Connie, in 2000. Mixing went well, nests were made, and in the summer of 2001 a black stork hatched. This was a huge feat; Sal and Connie’s chick was the first black stork to be hatched successfully in North America in human care!
Sal and Connie continued to add to their pedigree; they routinely bred and raised successful chicks every year from 2002 to 2005. In 2006, they had a successful clutch of three chicks, but then the unthinkable happened. Connie passed away on the nest late one afternoon. The chicks were only a couple weeks old. I remember this day vividly, thinking how cruel nature can be, worrying over what would become of their chicks, and upset that Sal had lost his wonderful mate. Before pulling the chicks to hand-rear, we decided to see what Sal would do when we presented the next round of food. To our surprise, Sal immediately began feeding the chicks and tending to the nest. He did this the next day and the next, successfully raising the three chicks to maturity all by himself.
At this point, the majority of the black storks in the North American population were related to Sal. Another unrelated female was identified in San Diego, so he was sent there in October 2006 with hopes of pairing up and breeding with her, who happened to be Connie’s sister. Apparently, sisters are not always alike because Salvador was not interested. After more than five years of trying to make this pairing work at two different institutions, our former curator Mark Weldon found them listed on a surplus list, destined for the private sector if no zoos showed interest. Anyone who knows Mark knows his passion for storks and knows he could not bear to see this happen, so Salvador and his lady comrade Helena ended up back at Fort Wayne in 2011!
Salvador spent the remaining eight years of his life with an array of other black storks, but never showed interest in breeding again. Over time, these other storks passed away or moved on to other institutions, and Salvador continued to comfortably reside in the veldt barn and his cozy wooded habitat.
Salvador sired 14 healthy chicks throughout his long life of 30 years, and I feel it is fitting for him to be our last black stork resident at the FWCZ. In his honor, the cover of the 2020 Zoo calendar bears his image. Sal had a long and happy life, but he will be missed tremendously.
Written by Amber Eagleson, Curator of African Journey & Indonesian Rainforest