The air was shrill with the chattering, shrieking calls of lories, winged rainbows flashing through the trees, dangling by one foot from a branch, or swinging on a liana. This scene of colour and activity was not set deep in a rainforest but in an industrial area of Singapore. Here is located what is arguably the largest and most diverse bird park in the world, with more than 8,000 birds of 600 species. It is visited by one million people annually. Forever expanding its attractions, the most recent is Lory Loft, a lory exhibit like no other.
About ten years ago zoos in the USA thought up
a new kind of entertainment - walking among lories that would feed from the hand. These colorful brushtongued parrots that exist mainly on nectar and pollen in the wild, were trained to take "nectar" (man-made) from little pots of the liquid purchased by visitors who enter the walk-through aviary where the birds reside. I have visited a number of such houses in North America and in Europe. All are dwarfed by the magnificent structure at Jurong BirdPark, by far the world's largest lory exhibit.
Its theme is an Australian one. The entrance to Lory Loft is marked by a spectacular 80-year-old bot-
tie tree, with its huge bulbous trunk, imported from Queensland. As one enters the aviary, the size and height of the enclosure, and the airiness of the structure, make an immediate impact. With 3,228 square feet (3,000 sq metres), it is larger than a soccer field, 197ft (60m long), 164ft (50m) wide and the equivalent of nine stories high! Some large enclosures are dominated by the framework but here it consist of stainless steel masts, and inconspicuous and neat welded mesh of very light appearance. It creates an ambience that is more pleasing than any large aviary I have ever seen.
Visitors enter at canopy height, looking down into a forest of trees. Two steel canopy bridges, very neat and solid in construction, lead from the entrance (with its Australian theme coffee shop), to the centre of the aviary. For the more adventurous, there is a well-constructed suspension bridge. The two-tiered feeding tower is the focal point, with dozens of lories clambering around or sitting on the railings, waiting for a passing visitor to offer a cup of nectar. Then perhaps a group will descend, landing on heads and shoulders, staying a few seconds then departing to find nectar elsewhere, or flying to a three-tiered hanging basket filled with delicious fruits. There are no birds on earth more active and playful than lorikeets and when these
characteristics are combined with striking colors (which usually include scarlet), being in the centre of this riot is unforgettable!
The Green-naped Lorikeet (Trichog/ossus h. haematodus) from New Guinea, and several of its sub-species, predominate. These include the Australian Rainbow Lorikeet (Trich/og/ossus h. mo/uccanus). These are perfect birds for lory exhibits, being less aggressive than the larger species, and very attractive with their green wings and multi-colored underparts.
The "red brigade" consists of Red Lories (Eos bornea) and Blue-streaked Lories (Eos reticu/ata). It is interesting to see how the Blue-streaks go around in a single-species group whereas the Reds mix quite freely with the Green-napes. The Blue-streaks are beautiful birds from the Tanimbar Islands in Indonesia, classified as Near-threatened due to habitat destruction and formerly heavy trapping. Now that these birds are no longer imported into Europe, they have become much rarer in collections, so it was a pleasure to see a group here. This is also true of the little Violetnecked (Eos squamata) which was imported so frequently 20 years ago. Dusky Lories (Pseudeos fuscata), predominantly shades of brown and orange, can also be seen. In New Guinea this is a common
and widespread lowland species.
The aviary houses one thousand lories and lorikeets! Although Jurong had large numbers of these birds in the Waterfall Aviary, most of which have been moved here, it needed to import 600 more. I asked Dr Wong Hon Mun, the Director of the park, where they had come from. He told me that most had been supplied by breeders in South Africa and a few, such as the Musk (G/ossopsitta concinna) and Scaly-breasted (Trichog/ossus ch/oro/epidotus) Lorikeets, were imported from New Zealand. When I visited South Africa eight years ago, I saw the largest lory collections in the world. The popularity of these birds was about to peak. Sadly, groups of parrots also go in and out of fashion and when lories fell from grace there were many surplus birds available.
The timing was very lucky for Jurong as it would have been impossible to buy so many captive-bred lories at one time in any other country. Australia does not permit the export of its birds, but New Zealand, which allows the export of non-native species, has a good nucleus of Musk and Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, which have long been scarce in Europe, thus it was possible to include these two species in the aviary.
Lory Loft opened about ten weeks before my visit in early August. It was proving to be a very popular destination for visitors, easily accessed from the new monorail station. The monorail circles the large park, with convenient stops at popular points. This is a bonus for people who are unable to walk far, as they can still see most of the park, which is heavily planted and boasts numerous lakes and hillsides. Lory Loft is the first stop on the monorail.