Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rare, exotic birds on show at new bird park

A UNIQUE array of birds from around the world, collected by East London resident Owen Sanders, can soon be viewed by the public.

Sanders approached the municipality for permission to establish a registered bird park at his Bunker’s Hill home several years ago. It then took several years to plan and build.

In the last five years, suspended stainless steel aviaries were constructed. This hygienic method allows for any food dropped by the birds to fall onto a cement floor and be washed away.

Into the cages of his Flamingo Gardens bird park, Sanders has put birds indigenous to Africa and others from Indonesia, Australia and South America.

Among them are toucans, macaws and even a pair of highly endangered Cape parrots.

“Their interaction with humans and the way they mimic different sounds fascinates me,” said Sanders, who acquired his first bird when he was six. He has been interested in birds ever since.

There are only about 500 recorded sightings of Cape parrots each year and they are usually confined to the Amatola mountains, Transkei and KwaZulu-Natal.

In the last 10 years, Sanders developed a fascination for the more rare and exotic birds. “People can see a collection of birds here that they won’t normally be able to see in the average zoo,” he said.

If cared for properly, birds can live for a long time. Included in Sanders’ collection are a pair of blue-fronted Amazon parrots that have been in captivity for 30 years: “Unlike humans, birds don’t show their age.”

Also in his collection are female Jardine and Ruppells’ parrots which are more colourful than the cocks – unlike the rest of the bird kingdom where males usually outdo females.

There are also three varieties of toucans in the park – all of which make completely different calls.

According to Sanders, these birds are the most expensive to keep in captivity as they require a specialised fruit and pellet diet. Ingredients are imported from Belgium.

Another interesting bird is the military macaw, which gets its name from the distinct red band across its forehead. “He is prone to blushing – his cheeks turning a variation of light-to-dark pink when he is embarrassed or nervous,” said Sanders.

The park is wheelchair-friendly and set in an indigenous garden that consists of a large number of cycads, some rare, from all over Africa. “Having an indigenous garden gives a flavour that this is Africa,” he said.

He is also planning to put indigenous yellow fish into his pond and bring a variety of indigenous water fowl to the park.

The park, in John Bailie Road, will be open to the public for the first time from Friday – by appointment only.

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