When we were planning the centre, we envisaged having an office pet. We knew we wanted something our students could interact with, but really couldn’t decide what. As a family of animal lovers, we’ve had experience with all kinds of exotic and unusual pets – from birds to lizards, even marine fish and corals. Friends and family describe our house as the zoo! We narrowed it down to either a rat (typical science pet!), bearded dragon (my favourite lizard), or a parrot (who doesn’t appreciate parrots!).
Contrary to common misconceptions, rats tend to be much more tame than hamsters and mice. I certainly find them easier to handle and rightly or wrongly, white rats are associated with Science. The set-up is very easy and transport is too. They’re not the most interactive though and some children are scared of them.
Bearded Dragons are naturally very tame and interesting to watch, plus our own passed away last year and we all miss him. They do require special habitats though and while I’m at the centre a lot, I’d still think it’d be best for it to come home with me, meaning a second habitat and some kind of temperature controlled travel set-up.
Parrots are of course incredible, but challenging in their own way. We feel that a bird when trained will be the most interactive pet option we have and transporting a parrot is much easier when trained.
Then it hit me… Alex!
There was an African Grey parrot that was involved in a scientific study from the late 70s to 2007 when he sadly passed away. Dr Irene Pepperberg worked closely with this parrot and through training managed to communicate with the parrot in ways that no animal ever has before. Even the amazing Koko the Gorilla can’t come close to the comprehension this bird had. It knew numbers, colours, sizes, same/difference, sounds, concept of none – it really did show the intelligence of a child.
African Grey Parrot
An African Grey is the perfect choice for us. They’re commonly called Einstein due to their high intelligence levels and great talking ability. Naturally, being English, we will call ours Newton! Extra apt as the centre is in Sturminster Newton! They tend to live 40-60 years in captivity (25 in the wild), so it’d be a part of the furniture. The fact that Greys are now classified as an endangered species provides another education angle. I spend a lot of time at the centre alone, so the company is going to be very welcome! We took a trip to Longleat this weekend and saw some big macaws doing some fantastic tricks and that should be a goal – to have a bird that well trained. We would imagine that we’ll have around 4-6 weeks of training with the parrot at home, before it’ll start coming to the centre. Then a life-time of training!
We’ve set-up a cage at home, one at the centre, sourced a travel cage for the van, planned a schedule with plenty of training time and done a few weeks research specifically on African Greys as we’ve only had smaller birds previously. I managed to pick up a copy of a book ‘Alex & me’ which is the story of the above bird written by the scientist – a fantastic read!
We’re now on the look-out for the right African Grey. We’re looking for a baby, or perhaps adopting an older bird. I think we’d prefer to adopt, but we do have to be careful to get a bird that doesn’t swear….