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Taronga Zoo bird display puts visitors 'up close and personal' with endangered species

The Sydney Morning Herald 25 Ocrtober 2017

Peter Hannam

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Visitors to Taronga Zoo over the next month are likely to be confronted by an unusual exhibition as they meander between enclosures.

Giant images of 10 birds, some of them endangered, will be scattered at key points around the zoo as part of an inaugural QBE Muse exhibition aimed at highlighting the beautiful intricacy of a species that is too often missed in the zoo and in the wild.

Image: Taronga Zoo bird keeper Brendan Host holds Griffin the sooty owl with an image of the bird taken by photographic artist Leila Jefferys. Photo: Kate Geraghty

"Because of the small scale of birdlife, people often don't realise how amazing it actually is," Leila Jefferys, the photographic artist who took the images, says. "They don't get up close and personal."

Ms Jeffreys' hope is that, by separating birds from their habitat, visitors will be able to focus on "their expression, their character" depicted in the human-size portraits.

"My way to make people start to perceive them as equals. 

"Even if you are in their environment, their [size and elusiveness] means they are often hard to see," she said.

For twitchers, "it's a reminder for those who already love them and admire them", while for others, the aim is to make people "develop a deeper relationship and admiration for them".

While not all of the 10 species are at risk, all of them can be found at Taronga Zoo. Of those that are endangered, such as the plains wanderer and the regent honeyeater, the exhibition's aim is to highlight the zoo's conservation efforts.

Elio Bombonato, manager of the zoo's Animal Preservation Precinct, said the zoo had bred and released about 200 regent honeyeaters to the wild. Eastern Australia may only have 400-500 of the species remaining.

"Regent honeyeaters are typically up in the canopy, feeding on the wildflowers in the ironbark trees," Mr Bombonato said. "Even with binos [binoculars] they are not easy to see."

A number of the birds may not be around to see in the wild in the next couple of decades if people don't take their protection seriously, he said. The regent honeyeater is listed as critically endangered.

One species among the images that is more common is the fairy wren, a bird Ms Jeffreys chose for its stunning plumage.

Also on the list are two members of the pigeon family, the rose-crowned fruit dove and the Nicobar pigeon – chosen because they are likely to surprise visitors more used to the ubiquitous rock dove, or city pigeon.

"People think they know what a pigeon is," Ms Jeffrey said. "But they can be incredibly beautiful."

The month-long exhibition starts at Taronga Zoo from November 1.

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