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Water park's birds catch eye of animal-rights group


Response to article from "The Angry Parrot" at bottom


PHOTOS BY EDDY MONTVILLE | ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR

Caws and effect: Water park's birds catch eye of animal-rights group

I extended my right arm out one day last week, as if I were checking a wristwatch.

Macaw parrot CoCo mingles Thursday with Rockford Register Star reporter Georgette Braun at Petland in Cherry Valley.

"Step up, step up," Donna Howen, manager of Petland in Cherry Valley, told CoCo, the scarlet macaw who was standing on her arm. The near-3-month-old bird obeyed, moving onto my forearm. I wanted to feel a bit like a pirate with a parrot perched on my shoulder, so Howen helped CoCo move to that position.

"Hello. Hi. Kiss, kiss," I said to the bird as it looked at me, without repeating any of the words its Petland handlers had taught it. Guess CoCo just wasn't in the chatty mood, I was told.

I didn't realize then that my encounter with CoCo would be controversial. My original interest was simply to write a column about how parrots learn to talk, but animal rights activists said there's a bigger story.

A little background
CoCo is one of five scarlet macaws that cost $2,500 each, were born at a Florida breeder's and have been living at Petland until staff there ween them from hand-feeding. Soon, two of the older birds will make their home at the new CoCo Key Water Resort indoor water park when it opens to the public Nov. 22 in the renovated Clock Tower Resort and Conference Center in Rockford.

CoCo's role as a live mascot/ambassador is to greet guests in the lobby of the tropical, Key West-themed water park and to entertain those who book parties there by maybe someday singing "Happy Birthday to You." Three of the other birds, at various ages, are making their way to other water parks that Sage Hospitality Resources of Denver is opening around the nation. All told, Sage is set to open eight such parks in the next two years, and more are planned.

Several staff members who are part of a "bird family" at each water park will be responsible for caring for the macaws. One CoCo will live at each water park, except there'll be two in Rockford. So that means more baby scarlet macaws will make their way to Petland and a few months later to the water parks.

Unwanted macaws
But after a story about plans for the macaws ran in the Register Star this month, Monica Engebretson got involved. She is project director of the Sacramento-based Animal Protection Institute. She wrote a letter to the editor of the Register Star, which appears today on Page 5A, and a longer letter to Walter L. Isenberg, president of Sage.

"I hope after considering the following information you will change your plans to ensure that your hotels do not create a conservation and animal welfare crisis through an inappropriate exhibit," she wrote to Isenberg in a letter signed by eight staff members of avian welfare groups.

Their concerns include: Macaws, who require a lot of personal attention and may exhibit negative behaviors as they age, can live to be 70 or older; hotel staff trained to care for them change; macaws that are no longer wanted end up in bird sanctuaries, and the more than 100 self-described bird rescues in the U.S. are already full; and promoting macaws as mascots at water parks, including having me photographed with a macaw on my shoulder, makes children and adults think it's trendy to have macaws as pets.

The animal rights advocates don't want Sage to display any live macaws. Instead, they want Sage to sponsor a rescued macaw that lives at a sanctuary and post pictures of the bird at the water parks.

Water park assures well-being
Laurie Scott, marketing manager for the Rockford water park, said the parks here and elsewhere will continue plans to feature live macaws at the resorts. She assures the birds will be cared for.

Each bird, which can be 3 feet long from head to tail, will be housed in a 6-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide cage but mostly will stand on a large perch on top of its cage in the resort lobby. Their feathers are clipped so they can't fly and injure themselves. They'll easily be seen and enjoyed by guests but will be set a safe distance apart so the bird's stress level will be minimal. During birthday parties when children can have their pictures taken with the bird, trained handlers will be with the group.

The macaws will be well-cared-for by trained water park staff, Scott said. And Petland staff will make routine visits in Rockford and elsewhere to check up on them. The birds will have plenty of toys to keep them happy. And they'll be taught to say nice, inviting words.

CoCo Key expects to always have several staff members that would be interested in personally taking care of the macaws should they ever need a home, Scott said. But in the unforeseen case that problems arise, Petland has offered to take the birds back and find homes for them for the rest of their lives.

Live birds aren't the only macaws that will be part of the water park. The resort also will showcase a person dressed in a CoCo macaw mascot costume who'll make appearances at birthday parties and special events.

"Kids love animals," Scott said. "It has been our hope to bring these beautiful creatures to the water resort so everyone can learn about them and learn to appreciate them in a warm and caring environment."

On the Web
Go to rrstarforums.com and share your thoughts on the CoCo Key Water Resort and having live macaws as mascots.

For more information on the resort, go to www.cocokeywaterresort.com.

For more information on macaws and other birds, go to www.lappacr.org, http://macaw.axisdata.com/education.htm , www.morebeautifulwild.org


From: Tami Myers

Date: Mon Oct 2, 2006

To: gbraun@rrstar.com

Dear Ms Braun,

I am writing to you regarding the article "'Caws and effect" published in the Rockford Register Star.

http://www.rrstar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060928/GO/109280014

Macaws in the article from Petland are without a doubt very gentle, sweet and eager to learn new "commands" such as "step up" by their human caretakers because Ms. Braun they are babies and highly intelligent ones at that. The employees at Petland as well as all the other pet stores deal with baby parrots, only baby parrots. Naturally they all endorse them as pets and no doubt you came away from the experience with a warm and fuzzy feeling about having a Macaw or any other parrot. I would like to see Donna Howen, the manager of Petland in Cherry Valley cheerfully say "step up" to an adult Macaw without a severe bite, perhaps requiring sutures.

The truth is that these baby birds are just as irresistible as a baby Tiger cubs, cuddly, helpless and so damn cute. Parrots have much in common with baby Tigers. They are both wild animals born or hatched in captivity. When they grow up the wild instincts take over and these animals become very difficult to handle. While some dedicated people can forge a "lifetime" commitment with a parrot, most cannot deal with the earsplitting screams, destruction, mess and aggression of an adult parrot or they outlive them! Sure, they can be handled properly with "professionals" to keep them under control and away from contact with the public while they are on "display" does this really seem like a responsible decision for a public park?

As to Laurie Scott, the marketing manager for Rockford Water Park the do you truly feel that these Macaws, one of natures largest FLIGHTED parrot, flying countless miles a day, soaring over the treetops in the wild be allowed a humane life for the next 80-100 years housed in a cage large enough for her to barely turn around in? Ah, yes, they will be allowed to perch atop the cage as decoration to delight the children. Children having pictures taken with the Macaws??? This is such a dangerous and irresponsible idea, even small parrots can give a severe bite. A Macaw can (and has on countless situations) torn apart the lips, cheeks, earlobes and bruised or broken noses of the people who love them. Adults.

Parrots are wild animals hatched in captivity. We need to respect that and rather than these absurd and short sighted ideas fueled by the Pet Trade which makes a huge profit from the sales of these pet mill produced parrots, we should focus on the parrots themselves. A display on the rainforest and why we need to save the natural habitats of the parrots as well as thousands of other animals.

Laurie Scott stated that "Kids love animals," Scott said. "It has been our hope to bring these beautiful creatures to the water resort so everyone can learn about them and learn to appreciate them in a warm and caring environment."

Kids love animals, and we should encourage them to act responsibly and ethically and learn. Learn to respect the creatures who we share this planet with, including humans. Children will be just as entranced by a bubbling waterfall as they would by the parrots. Educate the children.

Tami Myers

www.theangryparrot.org

The pet trade BITES and we are biting BACK!


 

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