The Aviary
by Mia Shelton

Exotic birds, tropical plants and mesmerizing view are, all things can be experienced in the Bird Aviary at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, North Carolina. When you step into the aviary, you will be greeted with humid air, mysterious bird calls and friendly staff. You will see all sorts of exotic birds and animals, like Chilean Flamingos, Eclectus Parrots, poison dart frogs and many more. A fellow writer and myself got the pleasurable opportunity to interview bird keeper, Wendy Wadsworth and Horticultural expert, Denise Rogers, who shared with us the history, inner workings and experiences of the aviary.

The aviary opened in 1982. It houses 3,000 plants of 694 different species and 100 to 120 birds of 40 to 45 different species. These plants and animals require and abundance of consistent upkeep and care. There is staff on duty seven days a week year round to assist with the care of each of bird and plant. They also clean, maintain and prep the environment to make sure they are ready for presentation. Keepers clean outdoor ponds and indoor pools where the birds play. They also monitor the medical, behavioral and breeding behavior of the birds to make sure they progressing properly and safely. When feeding these birds eat anything from mealworms to pellets, to raw meat. Horticulture staff washed down the walk ways of the aviary to clear it of leaf litter and bird feces.

It can be difficult to care for these birds sometimes. For keepers have to treat their ailments, they have to catch them first, which according to the keepers can take five minutes to five months, in extreme cases. There have even been situations where birds have to be relocated. For example, Wendy shared with me that a male Victorian Crowned Pigeon that had to be relocated because she had a problem with “wing slapping.” This is an act in which he would walk up next to another bird or staff and slap them with his wing. This behavior was completely natural and is acceptable in his natural habitat. However, in the exhibit this behavior was problematic because it can cause serious injury to another bird or person.

Many people take issue with the idea of animals being in captivity. When asked about how she would approach this opposition, Wendy said: “It is really about their animal ambassadors for their species in the wild. We want to educate people about these environments. We also want to give people the opportunity to experience a tropical rainforest because they may never get to travel to a tropical rainforest.” Wendy also talked about programs that have animals in captivity because their species is declining. One of these programs is the MAC program. The Mariana Avifauna Conservation (MAC) Project,  is a project that is working to conserve threatened and endemic bird species of Marianas Islands. The goals of the program are to establish a captive breeding population of the golden white eye as an assurance population and to translocate birds from Saipan to the island of Sarigan. To learn more about the MAC program and NC zoo involvement. To the North Carolina Zoo website.

The North Carolina Zoo is an amazing that filled with exotic animals, plants and fun. A family favorite outing full of adventure and knowledge. I asked the Wendy and Denise how they would describe their exhibit and they said “we love our Zoo and we love our aviary.”

Photos by Pooja Pasupula.

Rocky Coast
by Hunter Heilman

The polar bears never came out to see us.

Then again, who could blame them? They’re arctic creatures living in central North Carolina where the high for the day was 80º and the humidity was through the roof. At the North Carolina Zoo, many of the animals outside of their own climactic habitat are given large indoor areas to reside in that more accurately reflect their natural habitat, and it seems that Anana and Nikita, the male and female polar bears at the North Carolina Zoo, chose that over stepping into the muggy heat.

“Rocky Coast” is just one of the dozens of areas that the North Carolina Zoo offers to its visitors. This specific sections focuses greatly on arctic and sub-arctic animals, with the main attraction being the polar bears. Walking in, you’re greeted directly by the playful Harbor Seals and Sea Lions that possess seemingly endless energy at all hours of the day. Swimming laps around their tank in formation, the Harbor Seals are playful, charismatic creatures that you could watch all day if you really wanted to.

Rocky Coast also gives way to a barrage of Arctic seabirds, with its main attraction being the Puffin. As there were so many birds in this large, indoor exhibit, it gives a lot of way to see some truly interesting things. Most of the birds were just relaxing, like any of us would be on any given morning that we didn’t have to go to work. But like every group of people, there are your outliers that draw attention to themselves. Two of the seabirds engaged in a playful water fight for quite a long time, spasming in the deep waters to create as much of a splash on the other bird as possible. While another bird just simply stood facing the corner flapping its wings roughly every 30 seconds. These birds are not only gorgeous creatures to gaze upon, they have quite a bit of spunk and personality within them as well.

And then we find my personal favorite of the animals in the Rocky Coast area: The Arctic Fox. These might not have been the most energetic animals of the bunch, but their beauty could not be understated in the slightest. The striking features of this animal are almost jarring to see in person at first, but it’s a rare beauty you don’t find in most animals. It was a lazy time of the day for the foxes, with only one really doing any moving, even though their movements were solely to move from one sleeping place to another. They were precious animals that I could’ve stuck with all day.

There’s also the Peregrine Falcon, who poked their head out every now and again, but stayed hidden from viewers during most of our visit. For what we could tell, they were sleeping and didn’t seek to be disturbed. According to the zoo website, “The Peregrin [sic] falcon is the fastest living animal in the world, able to reach speeds of 200 MPH in a dive,” and its intimidating nature shows it means business in a single look. Majestic is the word that could be used to describe the Peregrine Falcon, with a beauty and ferocity about them that lets you know they are not to be messed with.

But then there’s the main event: polar bear city. Situated in a beautifully designed habitat, the two polar bears, male Nikita and female Anana, live separately throughout the year until mating season, which according to program coordinator Steve Gerkin, is typically housed in the first few months of each year. Since Nikita was brought to the zoo in January 2016, the zoo has anticipated the possible arrival of a polar bear cub from Anana, but according to Gerkin, as baby polar bears are so small, there is no possible way to tell if Anana is pregnant until it’s time for her to give birth, so the zoo is always prepared for the possibility of a new addition to the polar bear family at any time.

At the largest zoo in the world, there’s a lot to see, but the Rocky Coast might be one of the more interesting additions to the zoo. It’s a beautiful and striking exhibit that, even if we didn’t see any polar bears this specific day, provided an ample amount of fun and knowledge.

Photos by Madison Dobrzenski.

Cypress Swamp
by: Jeffrey Kopp and Stephanie Trefzger

We ventured into the swamp, a little overwhelmed by the heat and humidity, which we distracted ourselves from with “Shrek” memes. We kept up our guard, fearing an attack from the alligators and cougars that were all around us. Sure, we knew that there was no chance of an actual mauling, but the uneasiness was still there. Camouflage proved itself useful for a somewhat terrifying reptile; it didn’t even have to move, but the alligator snapping turtle’s spiky shell was enough to make us retreat from the window and onto a wooden bench nearby, where we awaited the arrival of Chris Shupp, an Animal Management Supervisor for the Cypress Swamp.

Like the polar bears, the gopher frogs were nowhere to be found.  But unlike the polar bears, there was no reason for the frogs not to be there. But maybe we just couldn’t see them.

The habitat in which they were kept was small, about the size of a ten gallon fish tank. It contained many plants native to the North Carolina Sandhills, including the pines of the native longleaf pine tree and the coarse, sandy soil of the region. The dim and humid pavilion may have helped to hide the already hard-to-find amphibians. Chances are the frogs were there but we couldn’t see them because evolution didn’t want us to.

The continuation of evolution is one of the goals of zoo’s conservation project  They aim to raise awareness of the Sandhill region and the many creatures that live there.  According to Shupp, this means making people aware of “habitat loss and fire suppression,” which are major contributing factors in the decline of species.  Fire, contrary to popular belief, plays a crucial role in the health of a wooded ecosystem. It returns nutrients to the soil and opens up the area in which the animals live.

Shupp and his team at the zoo are doing their parts to rebuild gopher frog populations by buying up land formerly used for development and letting it grow back to how it used to be while monitoring the number of species in the area.  However, on a more local level, the team is building the zoo’s gopher frogs a new, larger enclosure that they will share with another sandhill native.  The new enclosure is built with tunnels and hollows, perfect for the frogs to hide in during the day, and will, of course, contain the same plant the frogs would come across if they were in the wild.

Every expectation we had as we entered the swamp was shattered.  There was no danger; the uneasiness eventually melted away; and there were no frogs in sight.  But the biggest surprise was the attachment we garnered towards the frogs, which we previously hadn’t even heard of, and the level of investment we suddenly felt towards their conservation efforts.  Maybe Shupp was right: the most important thing is “making people aware of what’s in their own backyards.”