Pandemic clips wings of bird park

A painted stork catching a fish with its long beak as it wades into a pool of shallow waters at the Penang Bird Park in Seberang Jaya. — Photos: LIM BENG TATT/The Star

THE months of October until December have always been the best performing quarter for the Penang Bird Park in Seberang Jaya due to the school holidays and festive season.

However, the gate collections have been badly affected now due to the conditional movement control order (MCO).

Its director Dr Gino Ooi was hoping that the conditional MCO would not be extended beyond this Sunday, so that they could at least make up for lost ground.

“In recent years, the park has been receiving about 60,000 visitors each year. A quarter of that number was usually recorded in November and December.

“We were getting ready for visitors seeking to get close to the 300 species of birds here.

“We already have everything in place, including measures to ensure physical distancing.

Dr Ooi checking on the ostriches at the Penang Bird Park.Dr Ooi checking on the ostriches at the Penang Bird Park.

“But the sudden announcement of conditional MCO from Nov 9 to Dec 6 brought everything to a halt.

“With the park closed, we get zero revenue. But I understand the conditional MCO is meant for the public’s sake.

“Hopefully when the MCO is over, the locals will return and visit the birds, ” he said at the park recently.

Set up in 1988, the park that is home to some 3,000 birds is usually crowded with children during the year-end school holidays.

Besides a variety of birds in glass exhibits and aviaries, some enclosed and some open for visitors to walk in, there are other animals such as tortoises, crocodiles, rabbits and mousedeer.

Dr Ooi said they need about RM70,000 monthly to upkeep its surroundings and provide food for the animals, adding that there are 18 staff members looking after 300 species of birds.

“Each month, about RM25,000 is spent on food, while the balance is spent on staff salary and maintenance of the 2ha park, ” he said.

A closeup of pelicans resting on a nest of twigs.A closeup of pelicans resting on a nest of twigs.

Thankfully, Dr Ooi said the Forestry Department had relieved the park’s burden with its six-month food sponsorship for the birds and animals since May.

He hoped the authorities would look into grouping them under another category instead of the ‘theme park’ category.

“We are now a ‘zoological garden’ and I hope the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry will look into ‘reclassifying’ our sector and allow us to operate.

“We used to only provide exhibitions and shows for entertainment and fun.

“But all those have changed today and we now provide education and conduct research to ensure the welfare and conservation of animals, ” he said.

Birds including peacocks wandering freely in an open aviary at the park.Birds including peacocks wandering freely in an open aviary at the park.

Dr Ooi said the park was never closed to the public until the MCO was enforced in March.

“For 32 years, we were never closed to the public until the first MCO came into effect from March to June.

“We have survived the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 and the H1N1 bird flu in 2009, but this is the worst, ” he said.

The park reopened briefly from June and has been closed since the conditional MCO from Nov 9.

The usual opening hours are from 9am to 7pm.

Admission fee for MyKad holders is RM28 for adults and RM15 for children below 12 years old while international tourists pay RM38 for adults and RM20 for children.

Penangites enjoy 50% off for the ticket prices.

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