In partnerships with Foster Parrots, Inc. and the New England Exotic Wildlife Society (NEEWS), we provide education opportunities and community service to transform social values from bird possession to service.
Student Profile: In a Parrot's Place, Costa Rica
Elizabeth Burton-Crow has a background in both environmental sciences and psychology from University of California and is now enrolled in the doctorate program at Pacifica Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara, California.
She lives in Washington State with her family, including Gir, a sun conure. For the Return portion of her Sacred Bones journey, Liz travelled to Costa Rica where she volunteered with the ARA Project, a non-profit dedicated to revitalizing macaw society. These are excerpts from her diary:
August 29, 2012: Arrival
And so the adventure begins, full of promise, full of anxiety. I remind myself that it is not my journey alone; it is a journey on behalf of those avian beings who are not so privileged, who did not make the reverse trek northward of their own free will. This puts my anxiety in perspective…one of the factors motivating my trip to Costa Rica was to make the journey on behalf of my bird, Gir, and his wild relatives. It is for this reason that I brought with me a feather of his, one that I would leave in a ritual of repatriation.
August 30, 2012: A Bird in a Cage
Day two and I already learned a great deal more about macaws, sun conures, and other endangered and extinct birds. It is too easy to dismiss activities like poaching, egg stealing, and illegal trading as “things of the past,” atrocities that seem so far removed from what is acceptable that they could not possibly be occurring in this era, let alone this moment. I read today about a macaw species that went extinct in the 1960s or 70s (and the Spix’s Macaw, presumed extinct in the wild since 2000!).
I try to embody what it must feel like to be the last of my kind, to be locked in a cage somewhere unfamiliar to me while my parents, friends—everyone—is killed back home. I cannot fathom it. And I am suddenly acutely aware that those birds whom I have known throughout the years may well be only one or two generations removed from wild capture. It is ironic that what made it possible for me to meet Gir and the other beautiful birds whom I have known—the captive trade—fuels my desire to bring those same circumstances to an end.
This morning I awoke to the parrot-like squawks of a flock of green parakeets. All day, visual confirmation of their presence has eluded me…I do not recall seeing a bird (or knowing one was present yet undetectable). I am not dissuaded but rather am puzzled by this tendency of nature to retreat while at the same time enveloping everything.
September 2, 2012: First Day Working at the Ara Project
The birds eat three times a day. Much of the work of a volunteer at the center revolves around the procurement, preparation, and cleanup of these meals. Fruits are picked from the on-site garden and chopped into parrot-sized bites every morning. Garlic is minced and placed in a mixture that is given to the macaws daily as a way to prevent internal parasites.
Sanctuary is hard work. Chopping a banana seems okay, until you are on your 500th one and had to fight a cockroach in the process or until a four-inch-wide arachnid drops to within inches of your face as she tries to catch her last insect before sunset. The heat and humidity are relentless; this truly is unglamorous work! Yet I remain humbled by the stories of those who will live out their years at the center, birds like Bug, Eva, and Plucky.
September 5, 2012: The Day of the Earthquake
Well, today has been quite eventful! A 7.6-magnitude earthquake hit at about 8:40 a.m. local time. I noticed the parrots acting strangely. Many were flying around and seemed upset, even landing on the ground. Then the ground began to shake. It felt almost like liquid beneath my feet. Afterwards, the macaws were very quiet and holding very still, many hanging upside-down from their cages. They stayed this way for more than 20 minutes.
I have given quite a bit of thought about something I heard, local people complain about the noise that released parrots make. I asked myself: “Who do I try to quiet? Lola barking, the children early in the morning, watching commercials, Gir calling?” Then I thought, “What do they have in common?” and the answer that I came up with is they are beings who lack power.
What do we want to be loud? Music, concerts, important presidential announcements, our favorite forms of electronic entertainment: things with power. Power in our culture and the power to command our attention.
Could it be that the calls of such voices represent a challenge to the anthropocentric worldview, that to allow them to return to the forest would be to acknowledge that their right to exist trumps certain rights of our own? I tell myself that I enjoy tranquility but perhaps what I really enjoy is my own inner-monologue, the power of my own voice, my already-held notions booming loudly within, concealed by a placid exterior. What, then, is the power of the inner-cacophony? (Surely a victim of trauma could tell you.)
I tried putting myself in a parrot’s place:
I had been picnicking with my family in Washington State when suddenly, out of nowhere, a giant net descended upon us, crushing my husband’s leg before lifting me into the air. I don’t know what happened to the children, I lost track of them in the commotion. I was placed in a dark box, starving and thirsty, grieving for my family and wondering whether or not they were even alive.
After many days of fear and darkness, jostling and strange noises, I awoke one morning to find myself alone in this room. The food is strange and unappetizing, the air feels unfamiliar. Every once in a while, a large avian eye appears out of nowhere, scaring me to death! The cage door is unlocked and a taloned clan slowly approaches me. The giant bird monster makes noises I cannot understand and I think it wants me to touch it, to trust it. How could I ever trust it after it destroyed my family and took everything I love away from me!?
I imagined being trapped in this cage for days, for months, for years. Over time, the pangs of grief transformed into a dull longing. I came out of this seemingly benign phenomenological experiment a changed being, for I can never see the capture of wild birds and the living of a life in captivity the same way. It took travelling thousands of miles in order to adequately embody something that was in me all along: true empathy, empathy enough to ignite my rage at the present imbalance of privilege implicit within the avian-human relationship.