“Is it a hen?” a four-year-old lisps to his father pointing to a blondinette pigeon. Surveying the section that displays macaws and toucans, a girl raises her incredulous eyes to her father and asks him if these birds are painted.
Adults are also gripped by a sense of the incredible, especially when they walk through a huge section dedicated to exotic fish. Stopping at an aquarium of small-sized, young alligator gar fish, a man reads the label and explains to his family that these fish are compared to alligators for their jaws. At the enclosure for dogs, two men are engaged in a heated debate about which breed two barking dogs belong to — one calls them Kombais and, the other, Great Danes. They are embarrassed as the handler explains to another visitor that they are Belgian Sheep Dogs!
These are scenes straight out of Pet Fest 2012 — from January 13-17 at YMCA Royapettah — where every cage, tank and kennel holds a surprise for visitors. Organised by FuelE3, this ticketed event is one of the biggest of its kind in South India. The fest has been made possible by people from various parts who have allowed their pets to be kept on display.
Gulab Abdul Wahab, a member of the organising team, explains that the world of pet lovers is small and they look for opportunities to get together. The sense of oneness is intense. As if to validate this observation, Vetri helps a friend's Moluccan cockatoo out of its cage. As Vetri goes around with the cockatoo perched on one of his hands and a macaw — his own — on the other, he is swarmed by cellphone cameramen.
He is smothered with questions, most of them posed by curious children, but he is only too glad to answer them. “This pet fest is targeted at children. It was inaugurated by children from an orphanage. Children from select schools were allowed to visit the fest without tickets. We are confident that some of these children will be drawn to aviculture as a hobby and will end up aiding conservation efforts,” explains Vetri.
He believes non-commercial captive breeding offers hope to endangered birds. Aviculturists should be made allies in the conservation efforts. He cites the example of the critically endangered Spix's Macaw: “Spix's Macaws are not found in the wild. But for special breeding programmes, these beautiful birds would have long disappeared.”