In the Amazon rainforest, macaws and countless other highly intelligent species of birds exhibit advanced social skills, develop problem-solving abilities, form tightly-knit family bonds, and according to recent research even develop regional dialects only understood by individuals in a specific area. You could say they’re just like us – social, complex creatures with a wide range of emotions and behaviors that are influenced by their environment.
But all of this is stifled and traded in for compulsive feather plucking disorders, depression, isolation, and heart disease when they’re taken out of their trees, away from their families, and confined to cages in our homes, our pet stores, and our zoos throughout the world.
This is not to say, veterinarians, zookeepers, and owners are inadequate caretakers who fail to provide these birds with the proper care, enrichment, socialization, and environment allowing them to exercise these complex behaviors. Most have the utmost appreciation and respect for these amazing creatures. But housing them alone in a cage at home with standard care or in a large exhibit with other conspecifics with what is deemed appropriate “enrichment” is not the same as living, without boundaries, in a tropical rainforest in which they can fly up to 50 miles a day. In the Amazon, where evolution destined these birds to be, they can freely develop their personalities, learn language, solve problems, and form life-long bonds with others of their kind.
With this, we are faced with a question that is often overlooked, rarely asked, and desperately needs more consideration. By providing veterinary care for these socially complex and intelligent individuals, are we, as veterinarians, perpetuating the mindset that it is OK to keep these birds as pets or part of a zoo collection? Furthermore, are we transferring this mindset to other equally as complex, social, and even endangered animals as well?
What do you think?