Rescued pelican enjoys growing fame at Albanian wetlands park

DIVJAKE-KARAVASTA, Albania, May 23 (Reuters) - Birdwatchers from around the world come to Albania's Divjake-Karavasta park for its wetlands and rich array of wildlife. But one inhabitant in particular is attracting spectators: John Malko, the park's pet pelican.

Park rangers nursed him back to health after he was found with an injured wing two years ago, but he never regained his ability to fly, leaving him unable to hunt. They called him John, and gave him the surname Malko after the ranger who looked after him the most.

A Dalmatian pelican, one of the heaviest flying bird species whose wingspan can reach up to around 11.48 ft, John is believed to have been nesting on the salt water lagoon at Karavasta before he hurt his wing.

"We started taking care of him as...our own pet, but he soon turned into the symbol of the park and an attraction for visitors and tourists," park director Ardian Koci said. "Fishermen bring him fresh fish everyday."

John now lives near the park's main office, away from the other Dalmatian pelicans, known for their mop of curly feathers on their head. He has his own small pond, where he bathes and struts around.

At night he sleeps near the park dog's kennel, which rangers believe he does for safety from preying animals.

"I really enjoyed seeing him from up close because I cannot see the other pelicans in the lagoon, they are very far away,” said 10-year old Eliza Shkoza on a visit to the park.

Around 120 Dalmatian pelicans live in the Divjake-Karavasta lagoon, according to the Albanian Ornithological Society. The species is listed as "near threatened" species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

(Reporting By Benet Koleka Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Raissa Kasolowsky)