By Patricia Harkins-Pierre
Lorikeet Garden, at Coral World Ocean Park on St. Thomas, offers visitors a unique opportunity for being "up close and personal" with 18 gorgeous, gregarious winged pranksters. Animal encounter programs are a growing trend around the world according to Allegra Kean, former Director of Marketing at Coral World. Peter Noah, Coral World vice president of operations adds, "People want to experience the excitement and rush of being very close to the animals." Certainly guests who enter Lorikeet Garden, a 1,600 square-foot walk-through aviary, can expect to be thrilled by the free flying, friendly birds they encounter in the enclosure. All birds are captive born and hand-raised, which means they are very comfortable around people. In fact Noah notes, "Of all the birds I've worked with, lorikeets are by far the most entertaining. They are natural clowns, very acrobatic, and inquisitive about people."
Each bird has been given a name and has a distinct personality. There is Clubby, with the malformed foot, and his best buddy, Matey. Mango, Tie- Dye and Benny are also members of the Coral World flock. These are high maintenance little creatures, needing lots of time, attention and food. No wonder they are so happy when guests purchase $3 cups of nectar and stand still long enough to be surrounded by clouds of brilliant blue, green, yellow and red feathers while the birds feast. The lorikeets' specialized "bottlebrush" tongues help them extract the nectar from the small cups.
Don't be surprised if "cheeky" Mango or maybe mischievous Louis, decides to perch on your outstretched hand or land on your shoulder and peck at your ear while one or two of their friends swoop down onto your head or cling to your back or legs. Their feathers are soft but their voices can be very loud at close range so a keeper will help you gently but firmly shake the birds off if you begin to feel overwhelmed by attention.
Before you leave the exhibit take the time to enjoy watching the lorikeets play and preen, two of their favorite activities. They mate for life (which may mean up to 25 years), and with close observation you should be able to discover which birds belong together. Lorikeets are always busy, swinging upside down on the long rope suspended high over head, or scratching and rolling in the wood chips surrounding some of the boxed trees in the Garden. Unlike most other birds, lorikeets spend lots of time on their backs, "playing like dogs," as Noah describes it, "wrestling like they're at the Olympics."
The new focus on interaction at Coral World not only inspired the creation of the Lorikeet Garden but transformed other exhibits, such as nearby Shark Shallows. Now, not only are visitors invited to pet a shark (under close supervision), but if you are at least 4 feet, 6 inches tall you are welcome to actually climb into the pool, with a guide, and observe sharks as close as 2 feet!
Trudie Prior, President and General Manager of Coral World, is proud that, "as part of the reconstruction following Hurricane Marilyn (in 1995), we redesigned the park to provide accessibility to as many exhibits as possible." This includes a well maintained walkway to the Lorikeet Garden in the middle of the Coral World grounds Ramps allow all guests easy access to the central Palm Court. "We have provided lots of interpretive signage so persons who are deaf or hard of hearing can access information and our numerous talks and feeding throughout the day," Prior says. "Opportunities to touch or feed some of the animals (including the lorikeets) - make Coral World accessible to people with visual impairments as well."
And what if another fierce hurricane threatens St. Thomas, including Coral World Ocean Park? "We have a hurricane plan," Peter Noah explains. "The bird exhibit, for example, has poles and nets which can be dismantled. We would catch the lorikeets and put them in kennels until the danger passed."
Coral World Ocean Park is located in Smith Bay at Coki Beach. Kids of all ages are welcome every day. Good news: admission to the Lorikeet Garden is included in the general admission ticket. Lorikeet feedings start at 9 am and end at 3 pm. For further information about the Lorikeet Garden contact Peter Noah or the Marketing Office, at 340-775-1555 or visit the Park's website at www.coralworldvi.com.
Deep Reef Tank
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Sea Lion Exhibit
(At Coral World)
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