COVID CRISIS 1,200+ pet birds find sanctuary
This wild bird sanctuary near Plettenberg Bay became the go-to solution for pet birds whose owners were forced to give them up during Covid. It’s now also the home to the world’s largest assemblage of different types of turaco.
More than 1,200 previously caged birds found sanctuary at Birds of Eden during and after the lockdown stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.
“People and facilities around the country felt they had to find a more appropriate environment for their birds for many reasons – from not being able to afford to feed and care for them, to realising that they deserved a better life,” said Birds of Eden’s CEO, Tony Blignaut.
Birds of Eden is a 23,000 square metre (2 hectare), single dome aviary that spans a natural gorge at The Crags, outside Plettenberg Bay. Before the pandemic, it housed around 3,500 birds from 220 different species which, because of the many environments within the dome (wetland, indigenous forest, rain forest, etc.), were able to live in conditions quite similar to their natural habitats.
“We pride ourselves on running a true sanctuary in the recognised sense of the term,” said Tony.
Birds of Eden – together with its neighbours, Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary and Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as Monkeyland-KZN in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal – is a member of , the South African Animal Sanctuaries Alliance.
The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries defines sanctuaries as facilities that provide “temporary or permanent safe haven to animals in need while meeting the principles of true sanctuaries” – principles that include the provision of excellent and humane care in a non-exploitative environment, and adherence to ethical policies regarding tours, trade, exhibition, breeding, the acquisition and dispossession of animals, and more.
Besides private homes, many of the birds that were brought to Birds of Eden during lockdown came from facilities such as distressed zoos and collections – a situation that was helped by the fact that Birds of Eden is one of the few sanctuaries recognised and vetted by the NSPCA (National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), which regularly sends specimens here after removing them from inhumane or inappropriate situations.
“The birds at Birds of Eden include exotic and indigenous species, all of which were previously caged (usually in very small facilities), and often hand-reared and imprinted,” said ’s marketing manager, Lara Mostert.
She said that all new arrivals – including the large numbers of individuals that arrived during Covid – have to be put through a process of rehabilitation before release into the dome.
“Many of them haven’t even met other birds before – of their own kind or other species – and the main aim of rehabilitating them is therefore to socialise them in our large, pre-release aviaries which are situated outdoors rather than inside, which is where many of them lived until they came to us.
“Once they’ve built up their flight muscles, though, and also all the other birdy-talents they need (changing direction in flight, landing, and so on), we can usually let them out into the dome quite easily so that they can fly free.
“It’s amazing how quickly they recognise other birds of their own species, and how they instinctively look for water and food, and fit into whichever area of the dome is most similar to their natural habitats.”
While the dome’s forests provide a few species with the natural food they need, most of the residents need supplementary feeding – in particular, with fruit and seeds. “If they had to survive on what the forest has to offer them, they’d all starve,” said Lara.
She said that she and the small skeleton staff that remained during the height of the pandemic “spent most of our time cutting up food for the 5,500 birds and animals at Birds of Eden, Monkeyland, and Jukani.
“It was a mammoth task, made more difficult by the fact that our income dried up as a result of not being allowed to host any visitors.”
TURACOS, IBISES & AFRICAN GREYS
Amongst the more exotic species donated to Birds of Eden – which, like all members of , never buys, sells, or breeds for commercial gain – were a number of fascinating ibises, including black-faced ibis and puna ibis from South America, and straw-necked ibis, which normally lives in Australia, New Guinea, and parts of Indonesia.
The sanctuary is also shortly expecting the arrival of a number of specimens of white-cheeked turaco and red-crested turaco to add to its collection of thirteen other members of the Musophagidae (banana-eater) family already in residence at Birds of Eden – including Knysna loeries, Livingston’s turacos, and white-bellied go-away birds.
This donation will leave Birds of Eden with the largest collection of turacos in one place anywhere in the world. (See ‘Note to editors’ below.)
“We’ve also recently received a number of Cape parrots – which are very scarce,” said Lara.
“If you consider just our various parrots, ibises, and turacos, you’ll get an idea of the immense range of places where birds are caught for the pet and breeding trades throughout the world.
“It’s really quite distressing – take African greys, for example, which have become some of the most-exported pets from South Africa.
“The cruelty associated with keeping African greys is made worse by the fact that they live in large groups in the wild, and are definitely not evolved to live solitary lives.
“The same goes for ring-necks (after budgies, the second-most common species handed in at Birds of Eden) and love-birds, which mate for life, and which will often remain unpaired after losing their partners.”
Like the other sanctuaries in the stable, Birds of Eden enforces a strict #HandsOff policy: guests are allowed to look, but not to touch or feed the animals in the organisation’s care.
“Unfortunately, many of the parrots and other species have been habituated to human beings, so some of them do tend to approach our guests – but this is a sign of a certain desperation, rather than affection, and we request our visitors to ignore these advances,” said Tony.
“It’s important that the birds and animals in our care receive the best possible treatment a sanctuary can offer – and this includes as little human interaction as possible.”
And this is the core of the issue: it was the quality of the care that people knew their birds would receive – both during the global pandemic and in its aftermath – that prompted the many individuals and institutions who did so, to home their pet birds (and collections of birds) at Birds of Eden.
Turaco species resident at Birds of Eden: