Friday, August 19, 2011

Tracy Aviary hides away an exotic jay because it likes people

Copy of comments made to fellow bird lovers:

Recently Tracy Aviary (a public bird zoo in Salt Lake City) had a pair of Plush Crested Jays on display (Cyanocorax chrysops). These are exotic crow family birds that do not require a permit to keep or breed in private aviculture in the U.S. One of the birds was more friendly with people.

A few weeks ago I found that the pair had been taken off display. I asked a staff member on site why this was. I was told the following: "The bird was imprinted, and it's not the mission of the Aviary to promote that sort of thing." My own response to a statement like this, when considering the several years that the Aviary had on display Lory parrots  that people could go and feed, and Sun Conures which people now can feed, as well as several other individual birds that were friendly & kept me & others coming back again and again - such a statement shocked me. And also I was taken aback because of my own personal associations with past Aviary curators.

In response I've sent them a few letters. No one at the Aviary has responded.

One additional thing is that on youtube I have observed their head keeper actively searching for videos made by members of the public, people who've made videos of birds at the Aviary. The head keeper tends to then make rather juvenile, snarky, and unprofessional comments about the various videos - while representing herself as being either "Tracy Aviary" or a keeper there.

Regarding the pair, reportedly one of them died and the remaining one is going to bird show, because the head keeper there & maybe more of their staff & leadership don't want to have an "imprinted" bird on display. However, the land and the birds of Tracy Aviary are owned by Salt Lake City. The Aviary is operated by a non-profit, but the birds their staff touch on a daily basis are owned by the public. And the non-profit is funded in whole by money from the public (routed either through direct donations, tax dollars, or money from corporate coffers that also comes from the public).

While it goes without saying among many of us that bird keeping requires a big commitment, having a public zoo take off display birds that like people too much, just because of this & for no other valid reason, that shows that Tracy Aviary may currently be operating in a way which runs counter to the values derived from enlightened private aviculture, which sees high value (including conservation value) in promoting enlightened & responsible first hand interaction between humans and birds.

Well, you're welcome to check out the letters I wrote them. Some of the first ones are rather animated, in part because of a.) the pomposity of the statement made by their on site staff to me in person and b.) the unprofessional and snarky comments that their head keeper makes in online forums on behalf of the Aviary in response to media posted by members of the public (videos about several of the birds at the Aviary made by various people - not just the jays). But my latest letter is a bit more calm.

And it seems that I'm not the only one who discovered the friendly jays at the Aviary, with the more friendly of the two now being hidden away at the Aviary because of an apparent ideology that claims that a bird that likes people is an evil thing that should be hidden & discouraged.

The bird now being kept in some back room at Tracy Aviary:

My letters:

Here's a link to the City's statement of mission page about the Aviary. Nowhere in the mission statement does it say that "imprinted" birds must be hidden away in a back room because they like people too much.

"The mission of the Aviary is to foster caring for the natural world, enriching and transforming lives through connections with birds."

Right now those of us who loved seeing an enchanting pair of exotic plush crested jays at Tracy Aviary - our lives are not being enriched - maybe transformed, but transformed into people who recognize that right now there may be too much of an anti-bird-human-interaction mentality going on at our "public" Aviary that our tax dollars and gate & member fees go to support. I didn't become a member of the Aviary 16 years ago, and I didn't rejoin many times & make many one off donations & give several gift memberships to friends & family for this.


Tracy Aviary - "anti" to pet bird keeping? - August 19, 2011 letter to Tim Brown

August 19, 2011
Tim Brown
Friends of Tracy Aviary
c/o: Tracy Aviary
589 East 1300 South
Salt Lake City, Utah 84105

Hello Mr. Brown,

This is a follow up to my August 7th and 13th letters to the chair of your board of directors.

I have found that Tracy Aviary sits on property owned by the City, and that the property & bird collection there is owned by the City. Also here’s a mission statement for the Aviary I found on the City’s website:
Tracy Aviary operates in partnership with Salt Lake City Corporation wherein the non-profit entity manages the day-to-day operations for Salt Lake City Corporation and the City retains ownership of the assets.  The mission of the Aviary is to foster caring for the natural world, enriching and transforming lives through connections with birds.  In addition, Salt Lake City provides an operating subsidy.
Having your staff walk around the grounds pompously telling long time members like me, that the mission of the Aviary requires that a Plush Crested Jay that “likes people too much” must be hidden away in a back room --- as a citizen here, tax payer, and long time member of the Aviary, I say to you that such actions run counter to the stated mission of the Aviary as from the City’s website.
...foster caring for the natural world, enriching and transforming lives through connections with birds
Nothing more than this. Not a warped ideology of supposed conservation that believes that all first hand interaction between humans and birds should be done on a permit-only basis. Humans are part of the natural world - with a shared common ancestor between us & chimps & bonobos, and a 1 to 5% genetic difference between us and the latter two species. We are animals just as much as are all the other animals on this pale blue dot.

Also I do not see how it is within the scope of the City-mandated mission of the Aviary to have your employees go to participate in online forums, on behalf of the Aviary, in juvenile, childish, and retributive ways (as indicated in my previous letters). I have observed first hand the comments your current head aviculturist as made in online forums, for and on behalf of the Aviary. They have been unprofessional & childish.

The Aviary has come a long way in 16 years. Lots of new exhibits have been built. A back room area that isn’t like the dark ages. But what I and others who visit care most about are the individual birds themselves, not about whether your staff feel that no one should have a pet bird at home, or about whether your staff feel a video of the hornbills has an accurate verbal description of them, or about whether your head keeper has a fawning appreciation for the work of Doug Folland. Who cares. The Aviary should be about the birds, not about having your staff get in the way via one method or another. And certainly not via the alienation process initiated by the actions of your head keeper in this case - perhaps spurred on by your own personal bias against pet bird keeping?

And just to be clear - regarding Plush Crested Jays:
    Plush Crested Jays are not endangered.
    They are not on a species survival plan (SSP).
    They are legal to keep & breed with out a permit.

    There is no difference legally nor with regard to conservation impact, between the keeping of a Quaker parrot, an African Grey parrot, or a Plush Crested Jay.

    Plush Crested Jays are not listed on the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

So, I strongly object as noted to the double standard here taken here. You may as well also hide away in a back room all of the Sun Conures next, and several of the ducks & geese.

I have visited zoos around the world, and outside of Utah I’ve lived in Oregon & Texas. Zoos visited include: Oregon Zoo, London Zoo, San Antonio Zoo, zoos in China & Ukraine, the National Zoo in D.C., and so on. The things that made all these zoos special were the individual birds there and how they expressed and showed their own intelligence, grace, and unique personalities. The staff at these other zoos weren’t walking around the grounds pontificating about how birds and humans must be kept separate. And their staff weren’t going online so as to have negative and childish interactions with members of the public in the name of these zoos.

I know that statements from your staff on these issues don’t come out of a vacuum. They may be resulting from directives from yourself & the other leadership team of the Friends of Tracy Aviary. So if there is an anti-pet-bird mentality there that is so fearful of an exotic jay actually liking people, this needs to change.

It goes without saying that having an exotic corvid at home requires a huge commitment. The cost of entry for an African Pied Crow is now approaching $2,000. And a pair of Plush Crested Jays may go for $1,400. In my view it’s a good thing that these birds cost as much as they do. And if in the future a way could be found to legalize native corvids, perhaps in a similar manner to how native raptors are legal within falconry, that would be good.

And, my own reactions to your leadership on this issue were highly justified, because of what I saw as a breach of trust by your staff & indirectly by your management team. Passive aggression on the part of your staff, via hiding away a pair or one bird that “liked people too much,” and because “it’s not the mission of the aviary to have imprinted birds on display.”

Yes it is, in part, and with care.

Use of words like “imprinted” in this case by your staff are rather inappropriate, bigoted, and counterproductive though. The term negates the fact that a.) humans are animals too, and b.) it’s the mission of the Aviary to enrich and transform lives through connections with birds, and c.) it implies that there’s something inherently evil about a bird actually liking a human, and d.) indicative of an anti-pet-bird ideology that really is counter productive and directly goes against the mission of the Aviary. You don’t have to highly promote pet bird keeping. You can teach about how to do it responsibly. But don’t treat an “imprinted” exotic non-endangered jay the same way you would a highly endangered SSP participant bird that really should not be kept as a pet - Plush Crested Jays are not SSP birds.

Tracy Aviary has been and should continue to be a place for people who love birds. Nothing more. The extra stuff, such as an advocacy for conservation will come naturally. But micro-managing individual birds, especially exotic non-threatened ones that are legal without a permit in private aviculture, in a vindictive and petty way - that really is counter productive. And such actions will prompt people like me who have had ties to the wider avicultural world for a lot longer than most of your staff have been adults, well it will prompt me to make note of how things have gone down hill there to fellow aviculturists around the world.



Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tracy Aviary: Hypocritical Animal Hoarders

As a follow up to the post here.

To: Tom Barton, Chair
Board of Directors
Tracy Aviary
Salt Lake City, Utah

August 13, 2011

Greetings Mr. Barton,
No response has been received to the August 7th letter I sent.

I am highly concerned that head Aviary keeper Jennifer Evans is treating the Aviary as if it’s her own private zoo. Hiding birds away that are “too friendly,” and driving long time members like me away as a result.

Additionally Ms. Evans has a rather unfortunate habit of going online and making petty & shallow comments, in the name of, and on behalf of, Tracy Aviary. Is Ms. Evans the new executive director there?

In response, I have some questions for you:

Are employees of the Aviary employees of Salt Lake City, or are they employees of a non-profit organization registered with the State?

The actions of Ms. Evans pale in comparison to the work of past curators there, when there was a sense of professionalism, respect for the public, and appreciation for the value of allowing individual birds to be how they are - even if they happen to like human beings and to not punish the birds for this trait. And also respect for where the money comes from to make the Aviary possible.

Having your current head keeper treating the Aviary as if it’s her own private zoo, and having her going online, representing the Aviary as she does so (and stating as much), and making comments for and on behalf of the Aviary in all the places where this can be done nowadays - is this acceptable behavior?

Is this appropriate Mr. Barton? Is the Aviary a department of the City? Just how much of my tax dollars go to support the Aviary? And as a participant in the local economy, how much corporate profits garnered from the public here also go to support the Aviary?

Aside from the donations I’ve personally made over the years, how much tax money and how much corporate profits which result from the community here are resulting in your staff being able to treat the Aviary and the birds there as if they are their pets, while at the same time being overly concerned if given individual birds exhibit the apparently abhorrent trait of actually liking a human.       
By allowing your Jennifer Evans to be the defacto representative of the Aviary in all online discussions and forums, you are, with all due respect, cutting off the nose of the Aviary despite it’s face. Petty, shallow, and juvenile comments from Ms. Evans in online forums, forums where she states that she is writing on behalf of the Aviary - this is absurd!
I don’t pay taxes to the City, County & State, and I don’t make donations to the Aviary, so that you can have a rogue head keeper who acts in such a juvenile manner online.

No other zoo that I have known does this. Their employees don’t go online and seek to make comments & to participate, in the name of those institutions, and to respond to whatever social media related comments people may have made about a given zoo. And when I think about my own associations with Grenville Roles, and with the other curators who came after him, and when I think about all the friendly people I’ve met at the Aviary over the years in the front booth and in the back, the rather petty actions of your current head keeper really are hurting the Aviary and it’s mission: unless your mission is now to pretend like a bird cannot like a human. They can. They do. There’s ones at my home that prove this every day.

In this case, the harmless actions of a little birdie, a bird that delighted visitors and kept them coming back, has been turned into a large problem by a misguided, fearful, and zealous anti-visitor anti-bird-human-interaction type of ideology, where the littlest glimpse of a bird liking a person results in the affected bird being hidden away in the back.

Hypocritical animal hoarders with their own private zoo. Is this what the Aviary, my Aviary, has become?



Monday, August 8, 2011

Tracy Aviary: Plush Crested Jay "likes people too much?" And that's a bad thing?

Copy of letter sent:

August 7, 2011

Tom Barton, Chair
Board of Directors
Tracy Aviary
589 East 1300 South
Salt Lake City, Utah 84105

Greetings Mr. Barton,

I have been going to the Aviary on a very regular basis since 1994, and on a less frequent basis since about 1970.

When former curator Grenville Roles was at the Aviary I had frequent contact with him, and I have some of his art in my home. I understand that Grenville played a key role in the Aviary’s initial admittance into the A.Z.A., and he’s now moved on to Disney in Florida.

I am writing to you about a concern I have about what appears to be a new approach at the Aviary, which has perhaps resulted from the fact that at present the Aviary is largely staffed by a whole host of new college graduates. The new approach at the Aviary is typified by the following two words:  sanctimony and pretension.

Here is a specific example:

For several years the Aviary had on display an enchanting pair of Plush Crested Jays (Cyanocorax chrysops). These birds are not native to the U.S., and thus are legal to keep & breed in private aviculture.
The pair was in the old pavilion. And when the pavilion was redone they were placed in the rear enclosure.

The pair was particularly enchanting.

Recently I found that the female had died, and that the male had been moved off exhibit. Today I enquired why this was. Here is what I was told: “because the bird was getting too friendly with people, and that is not the sort of thing the Aviary wants to promote.”

Excuse me, Mr. Barton? Not the sort of the thing the Aviary wants to promote?

Can I get a refund for the past 16 years of membership dues, and for all the gift memberships I’ve donated to friends & family? How about a refund for all the Aviary-provided duck food I’ve purchased and fed to the ducks since 1994? And also for all the one-off individual donations I’ve made?

One key reason people come to the Aviary is because there are enchanting birds there who like people!

What about the Lory Parrots?

What about the Sun Conures?
What about the ducks & geese?

All of these classes of birds were “welcome” to interact and be friendly with people.

But when it was discovered, by your rather pretentious, myopic, and sanctimonious head keeper, that one of the Plush Crested Jays also liked people - that was too much for her. The bird had to be moved off exhibit.

But, Mr. Barton, as a long time member of the Aviary, and as someone who’s donated thousands of dollars to the Aviary, it just so happens that I get to have a say in what goes on there.
When an exotic and non-native bird in the form of a Lory Parrot gets to be friendly with people who come to the Aviary - when this happens, it’s a good thing, because people are drawn to the Aviary, and because when a person sees how a bird can be friendly and not just a lump that sits on a branch and does nothing - when people have first hand interaction with a bird, it bennefits conservation.

When an exotic and non-native bird in the form of a Sun Conure enchants children and adults at the Aviary, a similar result happens.

And, yes, Mr. Barton, when an exotic and non-native bird in the form of a Plush Crested Jay enchants and delights people, they are drawn to come back. They pay money to donate gift memberships, and they even donate several times outside of their regular membership payments.

The Aviary staff really needs to be careful about what they say to members of the public & the tone they take. We’re the ones who pay the bills.
Before I had a parrot at home I took zero interest in the birds outside. But now I care about what they do, how they are doing, and about their welfare. Birds at the Aviary who like people are your key asset. Don’t pretend they don’t exist. Don’t hunt them down as on a witch hunt. You should be doing the opposite and realize that a friendly bird will cause people like me to donate, again, and again, and again, for several years.

Enlightened Private Aviculture plays a key role in conservation. Public zoos can’t and won’t do it all. Bird lovers come to the Aviary because you have birds there, and when you have a bird there who likes people, that makes us want to come more.

As a long time member and donor of thousands of dollars to the Aviary I request the following:

1. That the Plush Crested Jay currently off exhibit be placed back on exhibit in exactly the same place he was at before.       

2. That a new mate for the jay be obtained.

3. That the Aviary staff be told to be careful about how they present themselves in public, when speaking to the public - because it’s the public that pays the bills and makes their paychecks possible. It’s our money that made the A.Z.A. enrollments and recertifications possible. It’s our money and our love of the birds at the Aviary that made the new exhibits possible.

Oh, and by the way, you’re welcome to call up Grenville Roles at Disney and he can tell you about birds there who also like people. They don’t hide them away.

It’s rather hypocritical for your keepers to go around essentially developing relationships with the birds they care for on a daily basis while at the same time trying to zealously keep members of the public (who pay the bills) from doing the same, on a small, occasional, and small time basis. In subtle ways that don’t go over the top, but in ways that keep us coming back. This was the situation with the Plush Crested Jays. I could name similar birds I’ve noticed since 1994. But I’m reluctant to do so because of the witch hunt which may ensue, in case your current head keeper discovers that there are other birds at the Aviary who commit the crime of actually paying attention to and liking a human being.


---------------------------- end of letter

African Pied Crows and White Necked Ravens are legal without a permit in private aviculture in the USA. So are Plush Crested Jays. Here's one page that has these types of birds for sale, and another, and another, and another. It goes without saying that keeping such a bird, and keeping it happy, requires a lot of work (as with a parrot). And here's a related discussion list.

More info on enlightened private aviculture is here.