Zoo closes aviary habitat

ASHEBORO — The North Carolina Zoo announced it would permanently close its aviary habitat.

First built in the early 1980s, the 40-year-old domed structure requires significant repairs due to the effects of high humidity and wet conditions, according to the NC Zoo. The decision to close and take down the habitat was made by the zoo leadership and the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

“For 40 years, the Zoo’s aviary offered a special place to connect with nature,” NC Zoo director Pat Simmons said. “The free-flying birds and tropical plants served as an oasis for many people – guests and staff alike. It was a heart-wrenching decision to close the aviary; however, safety is our highest priority.”

There are 93 birds of 33 species that are in the process of being relocated to other parts of the Zoo or rehomed at other Association of Zoos and Aquariums facilities. More than 2,000 plants of 450 species currently live in the aviary, so zoo staff is working on logistics for removing the plant collections.

“It is truly an immersive habitat, and guests often remarked that they felt as though they were really in a tropical forest. To hear the swoosh of a Victoria Crowned Pigeon as it flies by is magical,” said Debbie Zombeck, the zoo’s curator of birds and a worker at the aviary since 1993. “To watch the birds’ natural behaviors as they forage for food, build nests and raise their young made the Aviary a must-see destination in the state.”

The Aviary has been closed since late January due to the threat of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. The HPAI virus is a highly contagious disease that can affect several species of birds. None of the Zoo’s birds have tested positive for the virus.

Simmons said the structure would have needed to be rebuilt as repair efforts wouldn’t have been practical.

The closure of the habitat won’t result in staff members losing jobs. Some staff might be reassigned elsewhere in the zoo as plans are developed for changes in the animal and plant collections.

By Randolph Record