For the past decade, the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo and Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility offered the Birds Befriended Program. It allowed inmates with good behavior to care for exotic birds such as parrots and cockatoos that were former pets needing new homes.
Recent funding cuts at the state level have forced the program to end, so the zoo has taken back five birds, said Sara Hamlin, zoo curator.
Mike Cargill, former zoo supervisor and director of public lands, started Birds Befriended with the correctional facility in 2006 so inmates could socialize macaw parrots that had been surrendered to the zoo. With an average lifespan of 70 years, some pets had outlived their owners or were abandoned, but the zoo did not have the time or staff to devote to working with the birds.
Under the program, birds received one-on-one socialization, with a bird and its cage moving into an inmate’s living quarters.
“The birds had a good home there,” Hamlin said, “and their handlers had something to work for. They had to prove themselves trustworthy.”
But when the program ended, the zoo had to make room for three blue and gold macaws, a sulfur-crested cockatoo and a red-bellied parrot.
“The birds all moved here at the beginning of April and have been settling in,” Hamlin said. “They’re very intelligent animals.”
On Wednesday the veterinary team gave the cockatoo a physical. Finding exhibit space for five exotic birds has been a challenge. Currently the red-bellied parrot is in the Ed Shed and the macaws are in the Reptile House exhibit that recently held the iguana.
Alligators are back
The alligators have been moved from their winter quarters and are back on the pond. The best time of day to see Alvin and Allister is in the morning while they sun themselves on the bank of the pond.