Whanganui District Council has voted to keep the aviary at Rotokawau Virginia Lake open, despite heartfelt opposition from several councillors concerned about the birds’ welfare.
A zoologist’s report in February found the 1970s aviary needs to be updated to meet modern standards of care. One option put out to the public was closure.
But the council heard loud and clear from the community that they would like to keep it, with only 38 of 410 responses calling for it to be closed.
The aviary decision came during the council’s annual plan deliberations on Tuesday, when councillor Jenny Duncan said the popular view was not always the right view.
“It is not right to keep birds in cages. That’s a thing of the past. There is significant concern in our community about the welfare of the birds. We need in the first instance to look after bird welfare, and secondly look at, over time, closing the aviary.
“I do remind you about seven years ago when we voted for the ‘h’ [in Whanganui]. The popular view in Whanganui at that time was not to put the ‘h’ back. The right decision was to put the ‘h’ back in Whanganui where it belonged.
“So sometimes the popular view isn’t the right view. Sometimes we need to make a moral choice.”
Councillor Charlie Anderson also fought to put the birds first.
“In my opinion, no animal should be kept in captivity. I went to the zoo when I was eight years old and I saw a polar bear there. It was a very sad polar bear. I knew it was wrong and the polar bear knew it was wrong. It just sat there shaking its head in its concrete swimming pool on a big white rock.
“I don’t see any difference between that polar bear and these birds that are kept in captivity for our pleasure.”
Council staff say animal welfare issues at the aviary can be addressed relatively quickly by increasing staffing levels at the aviary, reducing the number of birds and adjusting day-to-day management practices like enrichment and feeding regimes.
The council approved $50,000 for immediate remedial works, and a business case setting out design options for the enclosure, and costs will be brought to the 10-year Long-Term Plan for 2024-34.
Mayor Andrew Tripe said community engagement would start on that this year and formal consultation would kick off in April 2024. Part of the process would involve exploring co-funding opportunities or fundraising to reduce the costs of the aviary upgrade for ratepayers.
Tripe said the welfare of the birds was paramount and most birds at the aviary were in good physical condition.