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Birds and Freedom

“I don’t like seeing birds in captivity,” my friend said. “I would never go there.”
I was enthusiastically describing the Edward Youde Aviary in Hong Kong Park and her remark brought me up short. True, I thought. I wouldn’t like to live in a cage, even though it was 3000 square meters of a natural valley along the slope of Victoria Peak and had a true-to-life natural habitat. But then I looked at some of the birds in the aviary and reconsidered.526px-Leucopsar_rothschildi_-Brookfield_Zoo,_Chicago,_USA-8a_(1)Lories-Rainbow

The Bali Mynah, the blue-eyed white bird pictured above, is Bali’s regional mascot and has been on the critically endangered list for decades. In 2012, there were an estimated 24 adults in West Bali National Park and over 100 on the nearby island of Nusa Perida (Wikipedia). There are estimated to be over 1000 in captivity, and my guess is, of these, among the happiest three dozen are to be found in Hong Kong’s Edward Youde Aviary.
There are 800 birds of more than 100 species in the aviary, among them many that are on the endangered list, including various species of lorikeets.
Yes, I agree with my friend that birds should not be kept in cages, but this presumes that man allows them the freedom to exist elsewhere. Sadly, we don’t; and as we increasingly encroach on their native habitats in the name of (our) progress, I would selfishly prefer to see them survive in aviaries like these, living in conditions approximating their natural surroundings.
Talking of cages brings to mind a recent newspaper article of human beings who live in cage-like dwellings because of poverty and housing shortages. And some of these cage-dwellers consider themselves privileged to have a space to live in rather than being out on the streets with no shelter at all.
While on the subject of birds and freedom, what about the thousands of cage-dwellers of another kind, that all of us surely meet every day? I’m talking of those trapped in their 9 to 5 cages of daily routine, working at jobs they despise, not having the courage to break out of their self-imposed incarceration. Maybe our own inner freedom begins when we think of granting freedom to other species or to others less privileged than ourselves.

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