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Saturday 20 September 2014

Pelican Pancho an urban celebrity

Published 06/09/2013 | 09:31

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Magela Guerrero pictured with Pancho the pelican in Havana. (AP)

Pancho the pelican apparently prefers the company of humans to his own kind, and the grit of the big city to a life spent soaring through the breeze above the Caribbean.

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The wayward seabird has become the toast of 23rd Street, a bustling Havana thoroughfare where the 2ft tall Pancho waddles down the sidewalk, wings spread and beak agape, as delighted children point.

He is on a first-name basis with neighbours who have come to see him as one of their own. Paperboys greet him each morning with cries of "Panchoooooo, the paaaaaaper's here!"

"When I saw him, it was love at first sight," said Magela Guerrero, Pancho's 32-year-old adopted "mom" of whom he's fiercely protective.

The bird came into her family's life in 2011 when a neighbour fishing along Havana's Malecon seawall found Pancho near death, practically featherless and without any appetite. Knowing that Mrs Guerrero takes in animals, the neighbour brought the pelican to her door.

The bird is a three-year-old Caribbean brown pelican, whose habitat ranges from the southern United States to the Brazilian Amazon. A veterinarian prescribed a regimen of medicine and curative creams, and Mrs Guerrero nursed him through what seemed an unlikely recovery.

She repeatedly tried to reintroduce Pancho into the wild down at the Malecon, but he ignored other pelicans flying past. He might enjoy a dip in the sea and take flight briefly, but would always alight at her side. When she went to leave, he simply followed her on foot back to 23rd Street.

Mrs Guerrero said Pancho frequently accompanies her on walks and responds when she calls his name, even obeying commands to jump up on park benches. He also has a possessive streak, rubbing her ears with his long beak - and jabbing the beak at others who approach her.

"Just imagine, sometimes he doesn't even let me get near her," said Freddy de Leon, Mrs Guerrero's 48-year-old husband.

Pancho behaves as if he's just another member of the household, climbing up on the wooden rocking chairs. He sleeps in a bucket and gets daily hose-baths in the patio. Sometimes he flaps up to the roof to bask in the sun.

Press Association

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