In January I attended the Parrot Festival in Houston Texas. While there I heard a presentation by Rick Jordan, “The Future of Aviculture.” He expressed views that if we lose the ability for people to own and breed birds in captivity, we will lose a great good for the people involved, and for conservation and avian medicine. Throughout his talk, he said that we all needed to talk to one another, even though we may have different views.
In the spirit of his invitation that we should all talk, I met with Rick alone later in the day. I wanted to hear more about him and if he was willing to hear my story. We began talking of our common roots, of how we both had worked at the Aviculture Breeding and Research Center (ABRC) in Loxahatchee, Florida in the late 1980′s. This was a very large avian breeding facility that only in my last months there began to sell the hundreds of birds that hatched there to collectors and to pet owners. I left in part because these birds were so precious to me and I was not comfortable for them to enter the pet trade where many would end up in situations where they would not be adequately cared for over the span of their lives. I spoke of how much I had been a part of aviculture then, like him, and how after listening to him I could see the good that came of it: relationships between people, building a vibrant human community, income, contribution to science, conservation, and veterinary medicine, and fostering human-nonhuman relationships. He agreed and seemed to appreciate this common understanding we had.
Rick Jordan, Sharon Wolf, Julie, and Trent at ABRC in 1989 (mock fighting)
I then told him that after leaving ABRC I had begun to work almost exclusively with wild parrots, and I had changed. Seeing their complex and beautifully compelling behaviors and social structures, I found it increasingly difficult to work with birds who were not free flying. It was as if the birds had become the “sacred other” and that I longed to be in relationship with them not on my terms, but based on their evolved natural states. I wanted to be part of a system where birds were granted the utmost consideration, compassion and care, and nothing less, and not one that often treated birds as objects of human desire and not as subjects with their own inherent worth and dignity. I claimed this story as my own, and did not mean it as a statement of what Rick should or should not do.
It was then that Rick amazed me by saying how he resonated with what I had shared. He told of how he had the chance to see free flying Lear’s Macaws in Brazil. When he saw them, he thought, “I’m glad that there are no Lear’s Macaws in the pet trade. They should be free flying.” Rick then told me that when he returned to the U.S. he was depressed with the reality of seeing his parrots in captivity. The beauty of a flying macaw had shaken him to the core. After several months he then had a chance to see a staff member of his bond with a parrot chick, and the love and care expressed by the human to the bird was also a beauty that deeply reached him.
What surprised us both is how similar we were and how we could get to the heart of what motivated our behavior and relationships with birds. What I also saw was that if we can slow down and hold conversations about our deep appreciation of birds with respect and empathy towards one another, we might harvest the power of relationships between humans, and between humans and birds so that we can make a better life for all. We need all of us at the table to listen and to contribute, because the task before us in conservation and avian welfare is no easy one. There are tragic consequences to our human presence here on this planet, but together, we might just be able to preserve the magnificent splendor of this earth.
I am grateful for our conversation for it is with the telling of these kinds of stories that we engage in a process of narrative ethics. We place ourselves in the situation of others, and by being there, work out what is ours to do on behalf of others in this complex world.
Thank you Rick for sharing your story with me, and giving me permission to share it with my readers, for I believe that our conversation will help others share likewise, for the sake of all.