The Three-Cans, David, and I are moving off of the little rock we’ve called home for the last few years and onto a slightly bigger rock (island) just a short boat ride away. We’re excited for our move for many reasons, a big one being that we will now be housing Paco, Paz, and Pepe out of the public eye and in our own private space.
When we adopted the Three-Cans two years ago, we made the decision to build their aviaries in the tropical garden of the resort we reside on. David manages the island, which is why we have lived on-property for the past few years. We did not have the space necessary to house the birds in our private apartment, so the resort’s owner kindly allowed us to build their enclosures outdoors. It seemed like the perfect solution for everyone – we had an unbelievably beautiful spot for the toucans to live and the resort got a new attraction for the tourists to enjoy.
Unfortunately, having not been in this type of situation before, there was a lot I failed to consider about this opportunity. And I can honestly say now that if I had really understood all it would entail, I would never have chosen this for us humans or the birds.
I don’t wish to sound ungrateful or overly negative. We have so much appreciation for the resort and its owner for accommodating the Three-Cans on this little rock for the past two years. But because one of my main goals with this website is to share what I learn with others, I figured I’d list out some of the challenges associated with housing your pets in a public space, should anyone be considering it or be curious as to some of the reasons why I do not recommend it and therefore will never do it again.
I have been truly shocked by the behavior of my fellow human beings throughout this experience. We built a rail around the aviaries in hopes that it would keep people a safe distance away from the enclosures, but it is nowhere near enough. It is a perpetual source of stress for me, as I am constantly having to police the area (I can watch over the aviaries from my kitchen window) for people harassing the birds. I can never go out for the day without being worried about what is happening in my absence.
I have been absolutely stunned to witness people screaming/yelling obnoxious sounds at them, throwing things at them (rocks, big almond pods from our tree, orange peels from their drinks, etc.), shoving their cameras and flashes in the Cans’ faces, smoking, and crawling over the rails to further harass the birds by pounding on their aviary walls and sticking things like straws through the wire. It is not just unsupervised children either (though they are the bane of my current existence) but adults of all backgrounds and ages, teenagers, you name it.
Besides harassing and frightening the birds, my biggest concern is keeping people from feeding them/giving them hazardous and poisonous items. Toucans have very specific diets and can get sick very easily if fed the wrong thing. They also have a tendency to swallow anything small or interesting. If someone were to give them something dangerous (ie. nails, screws, candy wrappers, mints/gum, straws, chapstick, etc.) they could choke and die. We have signs asking people not to feed the birds, but that doesn’t stop them from trying at times. As much as I try to guard the birds, I still find orange peels, straws, maraschino cherries, chips, and the like around their aviaries. This is why they have moats and high walls around the animals at zoos – it’s not the people they are protecting but the animals from the people.
LACK OF PRIVACY
I never realized how much I value my privacy until I had none. Every time I go out to care for the birds – multiple times per day doing training, cleaning, feeding, and enrichment – I can never count on being peacefully alone with them. Tourists stroll up to the aviaries and want to chat and ask me a constant stream of questions, regardless of what other activity I am engaged in. Even the people who don’t wish to converse make me feel uncomfortable, just standing there staring at the Cans and, by association, me. I have come to understand and relate to the unengaged boredom zoo animals have with those who visit them.
The lack of privacy is particularly challenging at times when you just want to focus on your interactions with the birds without distraction, such as during training sessions, vet appointments, and other emergencies. There are also plenty of times when you just want to take care of your birds without worrying if you look presentable or not. When I wake up the Three-Cans at 5:15 am in my PJs with no makeup on, it is really unpleasant to run into people – even more so when they want to engage you in conversation.
ANSWERING THE SAME QUESTIONS OVER AND OVER
I realize this sounds like a petty complaint, but I think it’s worth noting. In the beginning, I really enjoyed educating people about the toucans (at least those not asking the annoying questions I’ve come to loathe) but after two years of giving the same responses to the same questions each and every day so frequently, sometimes within minutes of my last response, over and over again, it gets tiresome. There are many times I wish I could hang a Do Not Disturb sign off my neck just so I can stop playing the same sentences on repeat, as though I’ve been previously recorded like some animatronic version of myself.
People generally tend to ask the same handful of questions (a lot of which are answered on the sign in front of them) and while their interest is piqued, mine has long waned as I drone on, repeating for the 718th time what the toucans eat. It’s not the fault of the curious onlooker, but more my decision to put my birds (and therefore, myself) in a public space, which means I can never enjoy my time with them alone. People think I’m a paid zookeeper, here to answer their every wondering, but I’m just a woman who wants to play with her birds over the next hour and a half without constant interruption and having to conduct conversations that exhaust me with their monotony.
DEALING WITH CRITICISM AND JUDGMENT
This has been a particularly difficult one for me and has unfortunately instilled a bit of a defensive edge to my demeanor when strangers approach me and start pummeling me with questions about the birds. I wrote a post on it awhile back called, If You Judge, Investigate and I often wish I had a printed copy handy to thrust into people’s judgmental palms.
While I share these types of peoples’ sentiments in regards to not liking to see birds in cages, what I cannot justify is their immediate harsh criticism about a situation they know nothing about without doing the smallest bit of research (for example, reading the sign in front of them). I have had people condemn me out loud, directly in front of me, under the guise of explaining their position on people (in this case, me) keeping animals in captivity to their children: “Some people are just very selfish, sweetie, and take away animals’ freedom.” I have had plenty of people approach the aviaries and immediately say to me with unhidden disgust, “Don’t you even feel bad about what you’re doing to these animals?”
As someone who spends 5+ hours of my time each and every day, working hard to enrich the lives of these birds, this can be tough to take and, at times, downright infuriating. Yes, I do my best to explain to them the reality of the situation – I didn’t import them here, we adopted them out of a crappy setting; This is not their natural habitat and they unfortunately can’t be released – but it gets really old, really quickly having to defend myself so vehemently to people who have no clue. If they were truly animal/bird people, they could clearly see that these birds live in spacious, clean aviaries with tons of enrichment, including a caring human giving them loads of attention. These are not abused, neglected animals and it is upsetting to me having people suggest as much.
Anyway, I do apologize for the trip to Negative Town! While this experience has not been entirely undesirable – I have been lucky to meet a few wonderful people while out at the aviaries – it is not something I will repeat again for all of the above reasons. It has really only been sustainable for this abbreviated stretch of time and we are all looking forward to moving on. We have great things ahead and lots to look forward to – privacy, bigger aviaries for each Can, and much more. I’ll still be posting daily on our Facebook page and here on the blog with new and interesting developments in our goofy toucan lives. Now – time to get packed!