Flying flamingos still top draw at Miyazaki zoo

by Hisashi Sasaki

Kyodo

Miyazaki City Phoenix Zoo is charming visitors with a flamingo show in which the pink birds actually fly.

The Flying Flamingo Show began last spring after the zoo suspended the original one to repair its aged facilities, according to Toshihisa Deguchi, head of the zoo.

The original show started in 1971, when the zoo in Kyushu opened to the public.

Animal shows are criticized by some, but the zoo “decided that we shouldn’t discontinue the flamingo show” because residents were attached to it, Deguchi, 59, recalls.

“To resume the show, we wanted visitors to enjoy watching flamingos fly.”

The question was how to do that. Zookeepers took a clue from their observation that flamingos flutter their wings to keep their balance when running down a slope or moving on water.

The keepers also tried to use the birds’ tendency to stay in groups — when a band of flamingos splits, the birds in the smaller group tend to join those in a larger group.

The zoo designed a pond and other facilities to take advantage of the behavioral patterns and covered them with a huge net. As the birds act in a group to protect themselves from enemies, two keepers approach them from both sides or move into the group so that they will fly over the pond and land on a grass yard in front of spectators’ seats.

Among other attractions, elephants walk outside their enclosure while goats run on paths in the zoo at high speed.

A zoo uses wild animals to increase public interest in nature and to emphasize the importance of coexisting with them, Deguchi says. To this end, a zoo must make itself an “enjoyable place” not by making animals perform acrobatic movements, but by impressing people with their natural abilities.

Deguchi says he has learned a lot from breeding animals.

More than 30 years ago, Deguchi thought he had succeeded in raising a baby kangaroo known as a red-necked wallaby but found he had put the wrong ingredients in its milk. Even so, the animal survived.

“There are lots of things we don’t know about breeding animals,” Deguchi says. “It’s important to avoid making decisions prematurely.”

“People enjoy meeting animals in a zoo or are scared by them,” Deguchi adds. “Through such experiences, I am happy if people who hate, say snakes, consider that they may well exist somewhere.”