A Northland family’s desperate search for their missing macaw has now entered its fourth week.
Pablo the parrot is still leading his owners on a hunt across Auckland, and even sparking sightings as far away as Hawke’s Bay.
Owners Lulu and Hamish Peterson, from Russell, took Pablo on at 4 months old and trained him for two years to free-fly, undergoing the same techniques used to train hunting falcons to return when called.
But an alleged violent incident late last month saw Pablo fly from his owners – and not come back.
Lulu Peterson immediately launched a search and online appeal, which turned into a “whirlwind” when Pablo was spotted 180km away in Auckland.
The sighting, in Howick, sent hundreds of locals out searching and saw the Petersons make the trek down to the Super City.
A Facebook page set up for Pablo has become a hive of activity, with possible sightings shared and emotional support provided as the search for the rare bird, described by Peterson as “a real show off and a real poser”, continues.
Pablo’s impressive plumage was spotted across East Auckland, seen flying in Pakuranga, Pigeon Mountain and Cockle Bay.
The online movement was sent into a flap earlier this week when a macaw turned up at a rescue centre in Hastings after the devastating effects of Cyclone Gabrielle – but this sighting was soon discounted.
But the hunt has recently taken a dark turn, with suspicions growing that Pablo has been taken after an unconfirmed sighting of the bird leaving an Auckland park with a man on February 15.
Peterson said she was “99.9 per cent” sure that the sighting of Pablo at Stockade Hill was accurate and some focus had shifted to trying to find the mystery man.
A reward of $1500 has been offered for information on the man and $7000 for handing the bird back, no questions asked.
Peterson told the Herald she was not suggesting that Pablo has been taken deliberately but, with no confirmed sightings since February 15, it was necessary to pursue that line of enquiry with vigour.
She said that there was a very limited number of macaws in New Zealand, especially those that did not have their wings clipped and were free-flying.
Other lines of enquiry remained open, with another recent sighting at Point England pools creating interest, especially as the witness had previously seen macaws flying in the wild.
She said reports indicated that Pablo, who is trained to seek a safe location and stay put in times of danger, has been increasingly seeking human help since Cyclone Gabrielle hit.
Peterson told the Herald she felt bad about her public efforts to find the much-loved bird, given the scale of the damage brought by the cyclone, but was dedicated to bringing Pablo home.
She believed that Pablo would be able to fend for himself at this time of the year, with plentiful fruit and water from recent rainfall keeping him going. But she had concerns about his ability to thrive when autumn arrives.
She admitted that a small minority of the Russell community had taken issue with Pablo, with one irate local even attempting to take out a restraining order against the bird.
But in general, Pablo enjoyed overwhelming support – even regularly having an audience with neighbour and former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and her husband Burton.
But a violent incident late last month saw a local allegedly admit to kicking Pablo after they claimed he attacked a child – and he has not been seen in the area since.
Lulu Peterson said Pablo would not have attacked a child, citing his frequent positive interactions with children during his flights on Russell’s Long Beach.
She said she received well-meaning calls from locals who had likely seen other kinds of parrot, such as a rosella, and advised callers that Pablo cut a much more impressive figure.
The bird’s body is about twice as big as a kereru and he measures about 1-metre from head to tail.
Peterson locals calling out for him may be causing confusion and advised anyone that saw him to call her immediately.
If Pablo landed on a member of the public they should speak to him like a baby and slowly walk into a house or car and close the door before calling her, Peterson advised.
They should not attempt to grab him because he would resist and she feared it would only add to his distrust of humans.
‘There’s no doubt’
Peterson was initially “absolutely against” a GiveALittle page, but the fundraising drive had enabled her to travel to and from Auckland and now allowed her to offer a reward to help bring Pablo back.
“But people have said: ‘Why don’t you go and buy a new macaw?’” she told the Herald.
“Well, it’s like saying ‘go and get a new child’. You just don’t do that.”
Peterson was at pains to pay tribute to everyone who had assisted in the search, especially the people of East Auckland who had dedicated hundreds of hours of their own time to help.
She also said the long search had taken an emotional toll – but she was not going to stop.
“I go to bed at night thinking: ‘Gosh, maybe this is a massive mistake’. But in the morning I look at the evidence and I think no, it’s Pablo – there’s no doubt.”