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Friday, September 02, 2005

Macaw Free at Last (Some Sad Parts to this Story)

From www.arabnews.com, September 2, 2005

How would you feel if your family’s breadwinner passed away and suddenly you were jailed in a harsh environment, suffering in abject misery day after awful day? What if people were allowed to pass by your prison cell, frightening you at will and you never knew when the next attack would come? And what if all this unhappiness was caused by greed, the greed of people who wanted to sell you to the highest bidder? How would you survive living without kindness and comfort as the months became a year and then more? How would you keep from losing your mind?

These were questions I wanted to ask Buster, the Blue and Yellow Macaw, when I visited him at his new home where he lives with Freddy von Rabenau, her husband and Habeebee, an African Grey parrot. Unfortunately, while Buster’s intellect is about that of a four-year-old child, his ability to express himself is limited. But words really weren’t needed. There has been an amazing change in this macaw in the six weeks since von Rabenau managed to liberate him from 18 months of confinement at a local veterinary clinic.

“In February 2004, the macaw’s owner, an American expat went on vacation,” said von Rabenau, a German national who has homes in the UK and South America. “The macaw and two companion cockatoos were left at the Alkhobar branch of a well-known Saudi veterinary clinic while the expat was away. The American returned from vacation and was supposed to come pick up the parrots from the veterinarian the next day, but the man died in the night, leaving no clear instructions for the disposition of the birds.”

Von Rabenau became aware of the parrots’ plight after stopping by the veterinary clinic to pick up her own bird after a vacation. She immediately offered to arrange good homes for them, but the clinic’s receptionist informed her that the American’s heirs wanted the parrots sold and that interested buyers had already been found.

The two cockatoos were caged together, but the macaw was locked up alone. He had no toys, a very limited diet and no physical contact. This was horrid for an intelligent bird that would normally live in the wild as part of a pair within a large social group. In situations where a single macaw is kept in captivity, Werner Lantermann in his “Encyclopedia of Macaws” advises that the parrot needs special attention from its keeper. The macaw becomes closely attached to its keeper, substituting the keeper for its mate. “Emotional imbalances, which may be expressed in the form of feather plucking or neurotic screeching, could be the result of a neglected animal-man relationship,” wrote Lantermann.

Von Rabenau, nicknamed the macaw “The Prisoner,” and began visiting him whenever she got a chance. The bird’s cage was crammed in a corner of the clinic, behind a pile of cardboard boxes. Over months, a mountain of the macaw’s excrement built up on a perch at the bottom of the cage. While the plastic tray under the cage was cleaned regularly, the inside of the cage was never cleaned, as no one was willing to put a hand inside.

After a year of confinement, the cockatoos were sold with difficulty and the macaw was all alone. In an atmosphere of sensory deprivation, “The Prisoner” sat hunched over on his much too small perch, day after day. He no longer preened his feathers. He screeched and hissed at anyone who approached. Many visitors to the clinic were concerned about this miserable creature but the clinic’s receptionist kept insisting that he could not be freed for less than SR5,000.

“The receptionist had originally tried to sell him for SR6,000 but as the months went by there was no way anyone would pay that much for such an ugly, ragged, mean bird,” said von Rabenau. “I tried to get the receptionist to give me the contact details of the American’s heirs, but he refused. He told me it was not my business. When the cockatoos were sold, the money for them was given to the receptionist. No one knows if that money ever was given to the expat’s heirs.”

Finally von Rabenau got her chance. The clinic’s receptionist went on vacation and the veterinarians agreed to sell her the macaw for SR4,000 — the cost of his keep for 18 months. Von Rabenau admitted that she was quite frightened of the macaw and wasn’t sure how he would behave in her home, but she just couldn’t bear to watch the bird’s distress anymore. On July 17 it was time to break “The Prisoner” out of his jail. Von Rabenau and her husband brought a truck to the veterinary clinic and the macaw’s cage was loaded in and secured. As they drove him home, a breeze ruffled through his feathers and the parrot lifted his wings into the wind. There has been a slow but steady improvement in the macaw’s condition since that day.

“We put him in the kitchen and after four days I opened the cage and he came right out,” remarked von Rabenau. “He seems to know that biting is not nice. He’s bitten me a few times but he’s never broken my skin. He was under extreme stress at the clinic and was so unhappy. That’s why he was screeching all the time. People who saw him at the clinic mistook his fear for aggression. The macaw’s name was Nicky Ibrahim before, which I thought was too difficult and really not nice for him, so we have decided to call him Buster.”

Von Rabenau has vowed that Buster will always be a part of their family. She obtained an official receipt from the veterinary clinic for the sale of the bird. Coupled with additional documentation, the receipt will allow Buster to be exported back to the UK when the family returns there. Buster has a life expectancy of up to 35 years, so bringing him home was no small commitment and returning him to the wild is not a realistic option.

Numerous parrots are for sale in the Kingdom’s pet shops and von Rabenau urges people to think twice before taking a bird home. Some parrots, such as cockatoos, can live for 80 years. For certain expatriates, such as those from Australia, repatriating the bird isn’t an option due to national import regulations. In Saudi Arabia there are no veterinary practices specializing in birds, consequently any parrot illness is hard to diagnose and treat. Parrots need constant devotion from their keepers and will begin to hurt themselves and become destructive if adequate personal attention is lacking. Not everyone has the time, the means and the continuing interest to take on responsibility for a parrot.

While chatting with von Rabenau about her struggle to free the macaw, Buster sat all the while on his perch nearby. Habeebee, the African Grey, roamed around the living room, returning frequently to sit on von Rabenau’s lap. Suddenly, as we were drinking tea, Buster began to laugh. These were loud guffaws and Buster was clearly pleased with the laughter he elicited from us by his behavior. He danced around a bit on his perch and then he went back to preening his beautiful feathers. Von Rabenau wants everyone who worried about this poor bird to know that he has been rescued. He is home and safe and he will never be alone again.

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