Shalini, a school teacher, has brought her students from Kozhikode to Mysuru for a tour, and on her checklist of places to visit — the Mysuru Palace, Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens and Chamundi Hills — is an unlikely detour, to a parrot park.
Armed with a plate each of cut fruit, the students enter the aviary, and are very soon swarmed by a flock of squawking, shrieking, chirping birds of every shape, size and plumage.
The parrots and parakeets — most of them exotic species from South America and Australasia — find perfect perches on shoulders and arms and tops-of-heads, and once done with their fruit treat, fly back to their enclosures. On a TV screen in the premises, Kali, a grey parrot, another resident here, entertains the group with ‘Good morning’, ‘How are you’ and ‘Om namah Shivaya’, and occasionally breaks into Kannada and Telugu.
Shuka Vana, a walk-through aviary spread across one-and-a-half acres, is unexpectedly located inside the sprawling Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Ashrama.
Here, lorikeets, sun conures and Quaker parrots, macaws and cockatoos, Amazon parrots and eclectus, among 468 species of birds, fly around the 60-foot-tall free-flight aviary, once in a while swooping down for a peck at foods brought in by visitors.
“Some birds, such as sun conures, usually don’t come close to humans, so it is surprising that they approach visitors fearlessly here. The birds know they are in safe hands,” says Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swami, who developed the place.
Shuka Vana has made it to the Guinness World Records for housing the largest number of bird species in an aviary. The certificate was presented to the swami this May. And with its formidable diversity of birds, and 2,200 individual birds, the aviary has turned into an education centre of sorts for children.
Shuka Vana started out as a rehabilitation centre, providing veterinary care and shelter to injured and ailing birds.
Toys for birds
“Some time ago, I found some sick birds at my ashram and found they were exotic species. I had them treated with the help of vets, and as these birds could not survive without help, we decided to keep them at the ashram,” says the swami. Gradually, his followers started gifting him exotic birds.
The number grew from a few dozen to a few hundreds and then to over 2,000 birds from South America, Indonesia, Australia, Solomon Islands and the Philippines.
Some of these birds have been rescued by his followers from as far away as Mumbai and Delhi, where they found them neglected by their owners.
Says Srilakshmi, a trained avian medical caregiver at Shuka Vana, “After the quarantine period, the birds are shifted to the ashram’s bird care centre and moved to the park after they get cured. If birds are unable to fly, they are permanently cared for at the centre.”
The centre is state-of-the-art: equipped with an X-ray machine, operation theatre, DNA laboratory, blood testing facility and an isolation unit for infected birds. Veterinarians visit twice a day, there’s even a ‘play section’ where each recuperating bird gets wooden toys. Their food is equally extensive: fruits, sprouts, vegetables, nuts, sweet corn and sugarcane.
No wonder a conservation centre in the Philippines has just gifted the aviary a striking pair of the endangered blue Hyacinth macaws.