Knaresborough woman describes pelican recapture as ‘pure madness’
Last updated Aug 25, 2023
Composite image of Chantelle Wilfan, mother Debbie Pedel, and son Leo, and Blackpool Zoo keeper Jason with the recaptured pelican.
(from left) Chantelle Wilfan, son Leo, and mother Debbie Pedel watched zookeepers rescue the pelican.

The Knaresborough resident who alerted Blackpool Zoo to the presence of its missing pelican at Hay-a-Park has described Wednesday as the “craziest day of her life”. 

Chantelle Wilfan spotted the Eastern white pelican on the lake at around 10.15am while taking her son, three-year-old Leo, for a walk.

Told by a birdwatcher it must be the one that had escaped earlier in the month, she called Blackpool Zoo, which immediately dispatched a posse of zookeepers to take the bird into custody. 

Chantelle, who watched the action unfold with Leo and her mother, Debbie Pedel, told the Stray Ferret: 

“The keepers arrived mid-afternoon and said they needed a boat. I suggested [Blenkhorn’s Boats on] Waterside and Ripon Sailing Club, but they were closed. So, we rang around people we knew and luckily, my cousin’s husband, Chris McMillan, had a canoe, so the keepers went round to collect it. 

“They spent some time trying to get close to the pelican, and one even fell out and had to start swimming, but after about 40 minutes we heard a shout from across the lake to say they’d got it, and we all gave a cheer. 

“It was an absolutely incredible experience being with the keepers and watching this incredible pelican. They’re the nicest, kindest men I’ve ever met. They were very calm and worked together as a team. They were absolutely there for that bird – they were so professional. 

“The whole thing – spotting the pelican, chasing round for a boat, and watching the keepers catch it – was pure madness. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It has to have been the craziest day of my life.” 

As reported by the Stray Ferret yesterday, the pelican was scared by gulls and blown away by a gust of wind on August 4 – the day Storm Antoni blew in off the Atlantic. 

Photo taken by Knaresborough resident Chantelle Wilfan of the juvenile pelican that had escaped from Blackpool Zoo, and which she spotted at Hay-a-Park.

The juvenile pelican ended up 65 miles away from its home in Blackpool. Photo: Chantelle Wilfan.

Blackpool Zoo paid tribute to Chantelle and her family in a statement issued following the rescue: 

“Particular thanks goes to a wonderful family in Knaresborough who saw keepers trying to reach the pelican in the lake on Wednesday and brought a kayak for them to use – without their kind gesture and support, the rescue would not have been possible.” 

The statement added: 

“It was extremely important for us to rescue this pelican and return it to its flock as they are very social birds and, as a non-native species, it needed to be back with its own kind. 

“The pelican is now in our animal hospital, where it has been given a full health check, had its wings clipped and will be quarantined before being returned to the flock in the near future.

“We look forward to seeing it out and about on pelican lake with the rest of its family soon, and we are sure that, now it is a local celebrity, lots of people will want to come and see it!”

The Eastern white pelican, also known as the great white pelican, is native to southeastern Europe, Asia and Africa. 

Dalmatian pelicans once thrived in the wetlands of what is now East Yorkshire, Norfolk and Somerset, but were driven to extinction about 2,000 years ago.