I walked down the steep decent with Tony and listened as he chatted about his idea for a bird sanctuary. He enthusiastically explained how the walkways would criss-cross the forest. He pointed out where he wanted to build a suspension bridge, an amphitheater, and the curio and reception zone. He explained how he would change the muddy swamp land (outside the forested) to grassland. He wanted to create different habitats for the species, ranging from grassland to a simulated rainforest.
I listened, but wondered how on earth he was going to enclose this ‘planned’ bird sanctuary. The dome structure itself would be required to hold up to 88tons of mesh which in turn needed to be painted with 10 tonnes of green paint.
Interested locals and visitors watched Tony and his team of locals built the 1.2km’s of elevated walkways. When it was time for the dome to be put in place people often asked me how Tony planned to get it done. I would look at the highest ‘support mast’ towering 55 meters above the ground and shake my head in despair.
I had no idea, it seemed an impossible task, but after 4.5 years Birds of Eden opened its sanctuary doors to the public.
The project was completed within its budget of 9 million rand (December 2005).
It is interesting to note that enough wire was used in the encapsulation mesh to go one 7th of a way around the Earth! 28 thousand cable clamps were used during the construction of Birds of Eden and we used 300 cubic meters of concrete in the perimeter walls, and the mast and anchor pads.
The entire sanctuary was built using unskilled local labour from the neighbouring community Kurland. They were taught the required skills and trained in all aspects of safety and high wire construction. During the entire 4.5 years period needed for the construction of Birds of Eden there was not a single injury on duty IOD.
Birds of Eden is a magical place. Once you have visited it you will return time and again.
I am more of a primate person and have been at Monkeyland (Birds of Eden’s sister sanctuary) since its conception 11 years ago. I liked birds, but knew very little about the different species of birds and less about bird watching. Birds of Eden has cured me of that. I am now an avid birder and I take as many photographs of birds as I do of monkeys. I proudly stroll about the sanctuary enjoying the forest and watching the birds in free flight, where they are also able to live natural lives and breed as they would in the wild.
At home, Tony and I feed fruit to the local Cape White eyes, Oriels and Knysna Loeries (I know, their name has changed!) at bird feeders scattered across our balcony. It’s heartwarming to see the swarms of Cape White Eyes, and the Knysna Loeries families munch the fruits provided, and their favourite is the fresh orange juice.
Birding or rather bird watching is a very rewarding pastime.
I’ll begin by clarifying what a birdwatcher (apparently is and does) .... it gets quite confusing!
An ORNITHOLOGIST is simply a person who studies birds. It’s a term usually reserved to describe those serious scientific humans that have some sort of degree in the subject of birds and thus a rightful claim to moral superiority.
A BIRDWATCHER is simply a person who enjoys watching birds. Beginner or experienced, usually they own a pair of binoculars, a field guide, know where to find a cattle egret, sunbird and kingfisher. Some serious bird watchers keep a list of sightings. Bird watching has not always been a hip past time, but as us humans become more aware of the environment we seem to appreciate the natural wonders of life more.
A BIRDER is very serious about birdwatching and is involved in identifying and collecting listings. As example: If you are a "birder" you don't go birdwatching, you go "birding" to adventurous locations. A birdwatcher will not ‘travel’ after birds, but simply enjoy seeing them when they do. A Birder actively seeks opportunities to see new species of birds for the first time; such an event is called ‘a life’.
A TWITCHER is someone who is obsessed with `Ticks' (British for "mark it off your list"). Twitchers race around the country and/or World chasing rare birds. They also use all the correct terms to describe the birds they see and they religiously mark them off the list as they go."
Birds of Eden has had visits from all the above. The Ornithologists have loved the fact that we have such a large variety of species, and they enjoy seeing the once caged birds fly free again.
The birdwatchers visit Birds of Eden in their droves tagging their families and friend along to. Many have taken out membership cards at Birds of Eden. I find that they visit without binoculars, but most have a camera with them. Not the long lensed type, just a point and shoot.
The Birders visit using lenses longer than my arm, and they spend hours in the park. Most arrive early morning and leave late afternoon.
The Twitchers don’t tick their lists when they visit Birds of Eden, cause a true sighting is never ‘real’ or ‘noted’ if the bird is seen in a captive environment. Twitchers only tick the birds they have seen in their natural wild habitat.
I assume that many of the people reading what I am writing may have never been to visit Birds of Eden. For those not in the know, Birds of Eden is 3.2 hectares in size. It is the World’s largest free-flight bird sanctuary.
Our aviary is larger than the ones in Singapore’s Jurong Bird Park and Kuala Lampur’s KL Bird Park. Infact, you could comfortably hide the UK Millennium dome inside.
The sanctuary opened with 1,500 birds in 2005, and today over 2,500 call the sanctuary home. The birds are varied, and although the exotic species seem to out number the indigenous species by virtue of being more visible, it is in fact the species indigenous to Africa that are the more abundant such as the tauraco’s, barbets, hornbills, flamingo’s, spoonbill’s, ducks, weavers and starlings.
By 2010, Birds of Eden will have an even higher number of indigenous species, as we plan to introduce many more before the FIFA soccer World Cup.
It is important to note that the indigenous birds are better camouflaged than the exotic ones, and to spot them you have to carefully look for movement. Both 2009 and 2010 are very exciting years for us. This year we are replacing the weld mesh that currently encapsulates Birds of Eden. A new revolutionary mesh has been developed abroad (I think it was developed in the United States), and is now available in South Africa. It’s called knit mesh, and it is made from woven stainless steel wire. The new mesh has a lifetime guarantee and is almost feather light. Although knit mesh is now being manufactured in South Africa, no local company had the capacity take on our massive order, so we had to import the 27,000 square meters of knit mesh needed for Birds of Eden from Wales.
By removing the current weld mesh and replacing it with the new knit mesh product, we will reduce the overall weight on the dome infrastructure by 80 tonnes, as the new Knit mesh only weighs 8 tonnes compared to the 88 tonnes of weld mesh currently up there.
Birds of Eden will therefore be shedding 80 tons of weight during the next few months.
The exciting news is that the aperture of the new revolutionary Knit mesh is 3.5 millimeters compared to the 25 millimeter aperture of the mesh we are removing. The smaller aperture will have enable us to keep smaller birds such as finches, wax bills, kingfishers, weavers, sun birds and many more in the Birds of Eden
The valuable lesson I have learnt from the creation of Birds of Eden is that no matter what the obstacles. You can create greatness from nothing. You don’t require a huge budget and/or a perfect location to realize a dream. You can realize any dream you have by simply focusing, budgeting, improvising, working hard, and getting the job done.
For more information about Birds of Eden, please email Lara or visit our website Birds of Eden