At the zoo: Feed the birds

Allowing lories to grip their fingers as the birds drink juice from a cup helps children overcome their fear of animals.

lories_521 (photo credit: Stuart Winer)
(photo credit: Stuart Winer)
A visit to the zoo brings with it certain uncontrollable urges: the urge to make faces at the monkeys, the urge to make a lion growl and the urge to feed the animals. Whereas the two former practices may very well be equally entertaining to both humans and animals alike, the latter is a serious problem that can harm or even kill animals.
Now visitors to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo can finally play at being zookeepers by feeding the lories.
Lories, or lorikeets, are small- to medium-sized parrots that are native to Australia and New Zealand. These multicolored birds are fast, agile and chirpy. Their high intelligence makes them popular as pets, and they are known as the clowns of the parrot world due to their playful nature.
In the wild they feed on nectar and soft fruit that they draw up using an elongated brush-tipped tongue. The birds are easily tamed, and now zoo visitors can take a turn feeding the birds a small cup of fruit juice that they will happily drink from a steady hand.
The lory aviary has 65 birds in a variety of colors, and they spend their time flying around the spacious enclosure looking for something to eat. Although available for everyone, the feeding program is specifically targeted for young children, explains head lory keeper Arielle Ziv. Many inner-city children develop a fear of animals because they have so little interaction with them, but the lories give kids a chance to get up close and personal with them.
“It teaches them that if they are calm and quiet, the animals will come to them and they have nothing to fear,” Ziv explains.
Simply holding up a small cup of juice quickly attracts more than a handful of eager birds that grip fingers, wrists, and hands in their talons as they slurp a snack.
While lories are intelligent enough to learn human speech phrases, toilet training is another matter. Their mostly liquid diet passes through them as rapidly as it goes in, and they are unruffled about fouling the hand that feeds them. Keepers spend two hours each morning cleaning the enclosure with a high-pressure water hose, and visitors are unlikely to pass through the exhibit without gaining an unwanted squirt or two on their clothes, hands, or hair.
“It pretty much comes out as it goes in,” says a cheerful Ziv, adding that the goop easily wipes off without leaving any stains.
“It is all part of the fun. People laugh more than they complain.”