I arrived in southern Utah at the beginning of April, spending a couple of days enjoying Bryce Canyon National Park before my short drive down to Kanab, where the Best Friends sanctuary is located. I arrived on a Saturday afternoon to get settled into the place where I’m renting a room. It was great to arrive and meet Jen in person, one of my aunt’s friends, who rents out the two rooms on the first floor of her home, something that various homeowners in this area do, as the demand for temporary housing is quite high with all the visitors to the sanctuary, as well as tourists in the area. We had an orientation day on Sunday, getting us ready for our first full day on Monday, April 3rd, and I got my first look at the sanctuary and it’s beauty, as well as a tour to show us all the animal areas and special places on the property. It’s really quite magical.
This internship is a five week program, so there are five interns in each internship session, and we each rotate by spending one week in each animal area: dogs; cats; parrots; rabbits; and then horses, pigs, and goats combined. We just completed week three, and it’s gone by so quickly! So much so, that I’ve decided to extend my stay (hmmm, that’s a familiar story), and plan to do some volunteer work after my internship. Whee!
For my first week, I was in the area called Parrot Garden, with one of those days spent with their wildlife group, called Wild Friends. I worked with some self-admitted bird enthusiasts, which was really fun, and exactly what you want to have as a quality of the caregivers in every area — people who have a passion for the species, whatever it is. There are many types of parrots, over 100 total, and just some of the types at the sanctuary include cockatoos, macaws, African Greys, cockatiels, parakeets, conures, and Amazons. And all of them are quite the characters, I can assure you. Super smart, some with special needs, others from not-so-great situations (thus, being at a sanctuary), but all unique and amazing in their own way. And so far there have been two adoptions that I know of from this area in the three weeks I’ve been here, so that’s great, as well. I’m generally not a big fan of having birds as pets, but for those birds that are already in captivity, and have developed a dependency on human care, it’s great when they find a good home, as taking on this type of companion animal is a huge commitment, well beyond what most people may realize. Many of them can live for 60+ years, require daily care, interaction, and a lot of enrichment and mental stimulation in order to keep them healthy and happy.
This area of the sanctuary is getting a new main building, which is under construction now and will be open in a month or so, I believe. In the meantime, the staff is making do with using the rooms in their clinic as parrot rooms, as well as some of the staff having parrots at home as fosters, or as new additions to their families. They also have a number of smaller buildings for the various parrot types, such as a building for the macaws, one for the conures, one for the cockatiels, etc. Depending on the species, the birds have their own cages, are in pairs/small groups, or in free-flight colonies with large indoor aviaries to enjoy. An added bonus in the design of the free-flight aviaries is that they have removable panels on the outside of the building, which can be removed to turn their climate-controlled closed aviaries into what becomes a big screened-in porch, so to speak, which is really nice for the birds on warm afternoons.
As with all of the animal areas, the primary care-giving duties are feeding, cleaning, medical needs, general assessments, leading tours, meeting with potential adopters, and behavior monitoring and enrichment. As an intern, I helped with the non-specialized duties, so things like helping with feeding, cleaning, interactions, and helping get the supply area organized. Parrots are very smart, and some of them like to test new people, so the caregivers are diligent about imparting the proper safety rules and techniques so that you keep all your fingers around the large parrots. Some of the caregivers and I would turn the music up a bit, put our earplugs in, and dance and sing with the birds that enjoyed it while doing the daily feeding and cleaning routine. The cockatoos, while being super loud, were a favorite area, because they are just so entertaining. And, as with other types of animals, it’s typically the quiet ones that you have to really be wary of, as those as the ones that new people underestimate. One of them, named Peaches, watched me the whole time, and would silently move in his cage to be closest to where I was in the room, rarely making a sound, but I could see the wheels turning in his head. In another corner of the room was a pair of cockatoos, Clancy and Sugar, that were bonded together when they arrived at the sanctuary, so they continue to share a cage together, and need to be adopted as a pair given their close bond. They were very animated and vocal, and would tell little jokes and laugh at their own humor, so I decided that they were the Statler & Waldorf of the group, just like the two old guys on the Muppets TV program that would sit in the balcony and heckle the show.
And then there is Lollipop … She is a whole other level of entertaining. Like most cockatoos, she really, really likes to vocalize when she’s seeking attention, and has some super cute behaviors, such as rolling newspaper into little burritos, sometimes around herself, and sometimes as part of wrapping up a toy. She would often be busy doing these things in her cage, especially right after it was cleaned, enjoying the new paper and toys, so I would talk to her about her “projects” that she was clearly working hard on. Enrichment is so important for parrots, just like any animal, and she pretty much rocks at it. One of the most beautiful cockatoos is Mr. Big, and he’s a large and just striking parrot, who is seemingly very quiet and serene, that is until he sees his favorite caregiver, and then he turns on the charm and chatters away with his favorite human friend.
On warm afternoons, many of the medium and large parrots are taken outside into outdoor cages, where they bask in the sun, preen, nap, or vocalize with each other and everyone and everything around them. I was able to help move a few of them, using towels on my arm so as to not get scratched from their rather impressive talons, or hurt by their beaks, which they use to test the strength of a perch before stepping up onto it, whether a branch, or in this case my hand and forearm. Because… owwww, those beaks are strong. Here I am with the cheeky Templeton:
One of the special needs parrots that I adored is a little conure named Rocket, and he is just super adorable. He likes to rest with his head tilted backwards against his plush little hanging tent, and often falls asleep like that. He’s fairly new to the sanctuary, and is in the clinic as part of his continued health and behavior assessment, which is an important part of ensuring that every animal gets the best possible care plan while at the sanctuary, and eventually in a home if they become eligible for adoption.
Rocket’s cage was in the lobby area of the clinic along with a beautiful African Grey named Jeb Stuart. Jeb has some medical issues that require an additional investment into his care, and yet he’s one of the most well-behaved and super sweet parrots there, so I have high hopes that the right adopter that has the time and means for his care will come along once Jeb is ready for a home, as he’s just such a fantastic bird. While I didn’t get to know every parrot during my week in the Parrot Garden, of the ones that I did, I would easily put Jeb at the top of the list of stand-outs. He’s a great example of an animal that needs some intensive care, has made incredible progress, and knows that his caregivers are working hard to help him get better — they are often the most well behaved, as they seem to exude a gratefulness for the care. To me, that’s Jeb. And he’s beautiful.
For my one day in Wild Friends, the caregivers were just as great as in parrots, and did their best to show me the ropes in the one day that they had my help. Most of the animals in their care are various types of birds, from ducks, roosters, hens, doves and pigeons, to falcons, hawks, owls, and ravens. They also have about a dozen desert tortoises, as well. This area of the sanctuary is dedicated to the rehabilitation of wild animals that may be sick or injured and eventually able to be re-released into the wild, as well as being a forever home for those animals that are not able to be released into the wild, as they have the proper licenses for such care. I helped with the cleaning and feeding of the various animals, including transporting the tortoises to their outside habitat for time to graze on all the various plants in their runs, bask in the sun, or enjoy a shady spot for the afternoon. I got a particular kick out of seeing their outdoor area, as it was well done with lots of space for each of them, built-up burms, lots of native grasses and other plants appropriate for their natural diet, good sized shallow water pans, and overhead tarps strategically placed to create shady areas, as well. If I were a desert tortoise, I’d dig it.
At the end of the week, I made a trip to St. George, which is about an hour and a half drive. I needed to do a little shopping that just isn’t an option in the small town of Kanab, so a short road trip to the “big city” of St. George was in order. It really shouldn’t be as big of a thrill to see Target, Chipotle, Starbucks, and other such stores, but after some time in very tiny towns of southern Utah, I was ready for the day trip there and back. After running my errands and having lunch, I took the route back that took me through Zion National Park, and was so impressed with the beauty of that place. Since I wasn’t spending the day in the park, and just staying on the main road, I got some photos, but do plan to go back and take the shuttle service all through the park to see more of it. The east/west road through the park is open to cars, but the north/south road in the middle of the park is shuttle only. It’s a relatively small national park, so the implementation of this shuttle was to both cut way down on traffic congestion, and as another equally important goal of that, cut down on air pollution from vehicles. This has had a very positive impact, so it would be great to see more parks implement this type of thing. Following is a sampling of photos of my short trip through Zion, with more to come when I go make a full day of it sometime soon.
Next up: Week Two in Bunnies!