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SAN DIEGO — San Diego Zoo Safari Park officials are searching the for an exotic bird that  flew away Monday afternoon.

The young painted stork was being trained for the free-flight bird program.  Trainers were flying the stork over the Park when the inexperienced bird got caught in a wind gust and disappeared from sight.

The zoo’s animal care staff were on the hunt for the painted stork, and area bird experts, such as the Audubon Society, have been alerted, zoo spokeswoman Christina Simmons said.

The website The Big Zoo describes the species as tall and slender, standing about 3 feet tall, and mostly white in color, with black and white markings on its wing and chest feathers, with light pink on its lower back and legs. The bird’s bill is long, yellowish and slightly curved toward the end.

According to Bird Life International, painted storks are frequently found in India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, but are disappearing from other southern Asian countries due to hunting, wetland drainage and pollution. The organization said the species is classified as near-threatened.

Painted storks feed on fish and, sometimes, frogs, in shallow waters.

Simmons said it’s uncertain how far the painted stork could have flown because its usual range might not apply outside its normal habitat.

Animal care staff are asking people not approach the stork, but to report it, if they sight the bird.  Call (619) 318-3348 or e-mail