Our Feathered Friends

They're for sale in the gift shop at Parrot Jungle, which has some folks crying foul

There is little doubt Parrot Jungle can take good care of its animals. But Ron Magill and others are worried about Parrot Jungle's visitors, the people who end up buying the birds, often impulsively. "There's no question some of the best caretakers of parrots are private owners," says Magill, "but those are the qualified, educated ones. The problem with what Parrot Jungle is doing has everything to do with impulse buying. You don't sell bunny rabbits at the end of an Easter parade, or black cats on Halloween. It's the impulse buying -- these people who buy parrots at the park do it without a scratch of information, and they aren't prepared to care for them. Every week I get calls from people who want me to take their parrots because they don't know what to do with them. These people paid thousands for these animals and now they want to get rid of them. But we can't take them, so we refer them to places like Wings of Love."

Wings of Love is a nonprofit bird refuge that accepts and cares for unwanted parrots. It was founded in 1993 by Regina Cussell and her husband Marshall. The couple built five large aviaries on property donated by Monkey Jungle in south Miami-Dade. More than 200 parrots are now housed there. Bird refuges like Wings of Love have sprung up throughout South Florida over the past decade. Regina Cussell says the reason for such growth is that people buying parrots are "never told about the screaming and biting, and the fact they start plucking their feathers out and tearing into their flesh" when neglected or abused.

Cussell herself used to work as a bird breeder and seller at Parrot Jungle. Then one day she took a call from a woman who had purchased a cockatoo from her. The bird had severely bitten her eight-year-old child in the face, a wound that required ten stitches to close. Before the angry woman discarded the bird, Cussell offered to take it in. She recalls it as a moment of revelation. "Parrots look at you, they think of you, they fall in love, but it's an unnatural relationship," she says. "These are wild animals constructed to fly free, and nothing you can ever do will make them truly happy."

She'd like Parrot Jungle to see it that way too, but given Bern Levine's 25 years as a successful breeder and seller of exotic birds, that seems unlikely. Metrozoo's Magill, on the other hand, believes Levine's very success may actually prompt a change of heart. "Whatever is said about Dr. Levine's business practices, one thing is for sure -- he's one of the most respected aviculturalists in the country. Which is why I hope he reconsiders selling birds at Parrot Jungle."

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