Politics, Animal Rights, Fear and Ignorance: A Recipe For Extinction


Imagine how flabbergasted I was to see an entire basement full of cages containing one species of conure, a small parrot-like bird indigenous to Central and South America. There were, literally, hundreds. Pairs, singles and colony cages of colorful yellow and green birds that appeared to be the relatively common variety called jenday Conures. Having been sworn to secrecy before I was even allowed to enter the aviary, I could not imagine why this breeder wanted to keep a group of Jenday Conures secret.

It all started on one of those kinds of nights when you expected something to go wrong. The phone rang. "Figures," I said. A lawyer/bird breeder friend of mine was calling with a problem .. "Here I go again," I mused.

It seems that he had been contacted by a man in his seventies who had heard through friends about this lawyer's interest in laws relating to exotic birds. The lawyer explained that this man was concerned that his birds be cared for, protected and not split up "after he was gone," "Not me," I thought.

The lawyer had been sworn to secrecy (confidentiality I believe lawyers call it) by his client. After talking with his client, he told him that what he needed was not a lawyer, but a reliable aviculturist, someone who was dedicated to birds and had the experience and facilities to care for these birds. "That's me," I laughed, "no money, old reliable."

The old man agreed the lawyer could call me in as a consultant as long as the lawyer promised him that I too would keep secret everything I heard and saw.

I waded through the almost intolerable screaming that was emanating from the breeding area. As I approached the cages, I was stricken by the massive size of theseJenday Conures. Coloring was off. I concluded that they must be some kind of cross-breed - a hybrid. That might explain the sworn secrecy. The old man stood there heside me with a grin on his face that only magnified my confusion. I moved closer to take a stah at identifying the mysterious hirds. Suddenly I felt the hlood drain from my head and the skin crawl on my hack as I asked, "Are these what I think they are?" The old man laughingly replied with, "That depends. They are, if you think they're Carolina Parakeets." I was speechless, in shock. They were supposed to he "extinct." The man took my arm and led me upstairs.

After returning upstairs where we could talk, my mind was reeling with questions that had to he asked. "How could this be?" "Where did they come from?" "Who ... t" I was groping for the right words, the right question. Not knowing what to do next, I asked for a glass of water to buy time to collect my thoughts. The man showed me where to sit and left the room. I drifted into another dimension.

The Carolina Parakeet, the only species of parrot native solely to the United States, became extinct in 1918 when the last member of the species, a captive-bred hird. died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Extinct - extinction is forever'

At one time the Carolina Parakeet had "blackened the skies" of mid-Atlantic America. It was hunted and ruthlessly pursued by farmers as a crop pest. Even naturalists hunted and killed it to study it. But zoos and aviculturists, those who keep and breed birds, didn't keep it or breed it so that it would he preserved. After all, who would have ever thought - extinction! Oh, yes, and our government doesn't allow people to keep birds native to the United States and. although gregarious, they were not to he kept as pets either. There was no interest in hreeding or protecting it. They were a problem, a pest, and always would he. That is, until it was too late.

The old man interrupted me and offered the story of their existence. It appears that his father was one of the very few people who was interested in breeding birds as a hobby way back when. "He started before I was born." Few parrots were available to the hobbyist in those days so his father and a couple of buddies began to trap Carolina Parakeets from the nearby orchards that once surrounded their property. "Why not? Ifwe could shoot 'em, why not trap 'em and keep 'em." His story was so fascinating that I could hardly wait for the next sentence. It was like reliving an era that I could have only read about.

From his story, I gathered that his father and one of his father's friends had managed to trap and cage about 25 wild Carolina Parakeets in the very early 1900s. Knowing that my newly-found friend was in his '70s, "it works," I perceived. As a young boy, he and his brother were charged with the feeding and maintenance of this group of birds, but he was warned, from the earliest time he could remember, that no one could ever know. At first, the birds were set up in one huge flight cage with several nesting boxes provided for the hens to breed. He claims that for many years, eggs were laid, but any chicks that did manage to hatch were killed by other members of the colony. Mortality in the adult birds was very low and he could only recall ever having lost three birds during those first years of keeping them.

He claimed that the other friend of his father who had also maintained a colony of these birds gave the other group of birds to the old man's brother. His brother lived close by. Having seen the impossible for myself, I believed him. He then told me...