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Missing cockatoo back home at the Shell Factory

By Staff | Jul 31, 2015

Lala, an 8 to 10-year-old umbrella cockatoo, disappeared from the large walk-in aviary in the Nature Park at the Shell Factory last Tuesday, only to be returned home two days later by a woman who said she found the bird in the neighborhood.

Shell Factory officials, who had feared Lala had been “bird napped,” expressed great relief as did her original caretaker, who had donated the cockatoo to the park.

Lala disappeared shortly after a family was overheard saying they would like to take her home, according to Karen Schneider, Nature Park director.

“That’s not unusual. We get a lot of people who want to do that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out when you put them back into a home situation,” Schneider said.

It was first assumed Lala taken cover in the trees at closing time as park officials were checking on all the animals to make sure they were OK and accounted for. Birds often take cover in the tree canopy at the end of the day.

But the next morning, when it was feeding time, Lala was again nowhere to be found and officials knew she was missing.

Schnider said on Thursday, she was ready to call the sheriff to make a report because Lala is both banded and distinctive and so readily identifiable.

“Suddenly, just before we opened, a lady showed up, met up with Pam Plummer (who runs the field trips to the nature park) in the store and handed her a box and started to leave,” Schneider said. “When we opened the box, it was Lala.”

Before anyone could thank her, the woman left, saying she had seen the bird across the street, Schneider said.

Lala apparently did not enjoy her time away from the park – she did nothing but scream for three days.

One of the cashiers in the store said she had seen someone with a white bird in the parking lot. But that wasn’t uncommon as it is a pet-friendly business and some people have brought birds to the restaurant, . Schneider said.

However, officials say everything, put together, has them believing Lala was bird napped.

“How many coincidences are there? If she was bird napped, I’d want people to be aware that even with 400 birds we notice when one is gone,” Schneider said.

Lala was donated to the Nature Park last year by Grace Ballard, her caretaker who was unable to give Lala the attention that the bird craved. Ballard still comes to visit her regularly, which made Lala’s disappearance even harder.

“It was one of the most difficult calls I have ever had to make” Schneider said. “Grace loves Lala and placed her in our care; we all were devastated.”

Shell Factory & Nature Park owner Tom Cronin said the animals are always given the best care by the staff and that they were happy at Lala’s return.

“Excellent care of the all creatures with which we are entrusted is of paramount importance, we are thrilled to have Lala safely returned,” Cronin said in a statement.

Cockatoos can live 80 years or more in captivity and on the open market cost between $1,500 and $1,700, Schneider said.

As a sanctuary for more than 400 birds, including 70 parrots, the Nature Park has received donations of hundreds of birds. More than 80 percent of the animal population of the park is from rescue or donations.

The Shell Factory is at 2787 N Tamiami Trail in North Fort Myers. It’s 2-1/2 acre Nature Park features more than 350 animals