Hallo, enlightened viewers, and welcome to Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. On today’s program we’ll present part one of our two-part series on The Oasis Sanctuary in Benson, Arizona, USA. Founded in 1997 by Sybil Erden, this non-profit refuge provides a permanent, stable and loving home for more than 700 rescued exotic birds, including Parrots, Cockatoos, Macaws, and other avian species as well as dogs, turkeys, chickens, ducks and swans. Ms. Erden now describes how she first became involved in rescuing our delightful, feathered friends.

I was the person in the neighborhood who everybody turned to when they had problems with their animal. So I was doing cat-and-dog rescues, and I was working doing some wildlife rehabilitation. And in the early- to-mid-1990s, I had a couple of lovebirds; that’s all I had.

But I decided that there were so many birds out there needing second homes, birds that were being destroyed because they were less than perfect, and I was trying to do something to help them. And by this time, I had maybe 10 birds because people were already calling me. If you have more than two birds, you suddenly become the “bird person” in the neighborhood. And you get calls from people saying, “Oh, my son, my daughter, my aunt, my neighbor has a bird and they don't want to keep them. If we give you the cage would you take them?” And I go, “Of course.” So over a period of time, I started taking more and more birds.

By the end of the 1990s, Ms. Erden, a vegetarian, had rescued many, many exotic birds and was caring for them in her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She soon realized that she needed a much larger place to accommodate her ever-growing family. While pondering her options, a remarkable event occurred.

We got a telephone call from, believe it or not, lottery winners, a couple. I’m a writer so people read my articles in different magazines. And they said, “We’ve been following you in Sally Blanchard’s magazine, and we’d like to help.” So they helped by giving us the down payment for this land. And they gave us money for about the next two or three years to get us rolling here. We have 72-acres here.

So that’s how we started. And when we moved, we had almost 300 birds.

Sybil Erden says that The Oasis Sanctuary is unique, because its first priority is to provide a permanent home for exotic birds with “special needs.”

The birds that we have here for one reason or another could not go anywhere else at the time that we take them, either because he’s an aggressive bird who would be euthanized if we didn’t take him, or he is a terribly plucked bird, or he has only one wing, or he has dietary issues or whatever special need that bird has. He would be harder to place. Or maybe the bird has already been through too many homes.

The bird has already been through six or seven homes and the bird has what I call, “foster child mentality.” You get a bird as a youngster and he wants to trust you. He has this instinctive desire to be a part of the flock. And you become his flock. And so he trusts you. And you keep him a few years. And now you don’t want him anymore and you give him to someone else. And he still wants to trust you and so now he trusts the next person. And maybe the next person sticks him in a corner of the room and ignores him.

And so now he’s going to think, “Maybe I can’t trust this person.” And then he goes to another home. And so this goes on. Every time they trust, they are disappointed. And then they become aggressive and they become self destructive.

Knowing that these beautiful birds are rare, sensitive and intelligent, why do people give them up?

There are a lot of reasons. People’s life circumstances change. They have to move to a smaller home or leave the country for their employment. They can’t take the birds with them. Illness is a big reason. Elderly couples who have chronic conditions just can’t care for their animals anymore. It’s just life taking a different course for those people. And again, a cockatiel living 35 years, you think about 35 years of your life and what you’ve been through and the changes you’ve been through. It can be difficult for people to keep animals or keep birds that long.

To Ms. Erden, every avian life is precious, even that of the tiniest bird.

In the late 1990’s, I heard about one breeding facility in California (USA) that bred nothing but little Parakeets and they had 100,000 birds a year there. And they sent them out to the pet stores for US$2 a piece or whatever. And it didn’t matter if they lived or they died. They didn’t get medical attention because they had such little financial value.

And one of the problems with our society, in my opinion, is the way we look at things. This bird has more value because he’s a US$5,000 bird. And so we will spend US$1,000 on medical care for that bird because he’s so expensive and rare. Where the little Budgie that somebody was given or got for US$15, we’re not going to spend a thousand dollars on that bird. But it’s the only life that animal has. And we’re so cost-oriented and price-oriented and artificial value-oriented that we don’t give each of these fabulous little lives their due.

So here at the sanctuary, we don’t care if it’s a Macaw or a Budgie. They all get the best care that we can give them. We have a vet that will come and set a Budgies’ leg as quickly as he will set a Macaw’s leg. It doesn’t matter to us. It is about the life of the animal and the care of that life.

African Grey Parrots are known for being very clever. They are found throughout much of tropical Africa and love fruits, seeds and nuts. There are many African Greys living happily at the sanctuary. The Oasis’ Executive Director Janet Trumbule spoke to us about the species.

Great African Greys are known to be the best talking bird. Alex the parrot, passed away in 2009, I believe, at the age of 31. And Dr. Pepperberg is a research scientist who spent 31 years working with Alex. And she demonstrated that Greys have the cognitive and intelligence of a three- to- five -year-old child. But all of us who care for Greys at home, we really understand, because you can see that intelligence in their behavior. And the fact that they can actually learn to talk so well is pretty amazing. She proved that they don't just mimic. They can actually use the words in context.

So they are a highly efficient, highly evolved, highly intelligent species. They’re very intelligent; they’re very self-aware. They have complicated language, both physical language and verbal language. And they can learn our language, whereas we can't learn theirs. The other thing I've learned about parrots is they can see into the infrared and ultra-violet spectrums as well as the full-color gamut that we see.

Many birds also form deep, loving relationships with the mate they select, remaining true to their beloved companion for life. Phillipe the Macaw is one such bird.

Phillipe is one of the oldest birds we have here. I mean we have one Amazon (Parrot) I know he’s in his 70s now, but Phillipe is also in his 70s at least. I had met a gentleman online who was working for a breeder in Florida (USA). Phillipe and Priscilla were two of the first birds of this breeder, who had thousands of breeding birds of all kinds, I mean really exotic, exotic birds. And they were getting too old to breed. She was probably 60ish and Phillipe was in his 50s. There was a big age difference, but he didn’t want to destroy them.

Normally he would destroy birds when they were no longer useful to him. But because these were his first birds, he wanted them to go somewhere. And his employee talked him into sending them to me. And Priscilla had cataracts, had arthritis. She couldn’t even spread her wings anymore. Her feet were all gnarled. She was a little old lady when we got her. Her beak was overgrown. We had to keep trimming her beak.

And Phillipe was still a lot younger, but because she couldn’t pick up her food with her feet anymore, he wouldn’t. He didn’t want to embarrass her. She couldn’t crack nuts so he wouldn’t crack nuts. And anytime anybody came near the cage, he’d wrap his wings around her. And they’d been together for 25 years.

We have a lot to learn about caring for our spouses from Macaws. They were the most incredible couple. Priscilla died in early 2001 and he grieved and he grieved. It took two weeks before he’d even venture out. And then he’d sit on top of his cage and go back in, sit on top. Finally he started making friends with some of the other single males.

Running The Oasis requires the assistance of several staff members and a host of volunteers. Ms. Erden is grateful to all the wonderful people who graciously share their time and talents in caring for the 700 birds at the sanctuary.

I want to thank my staff here. I mean, the people that work here are extraordinary. It takes a very, very special type of person to do this every day. And without people moving this forward, it would die. There’s going to be a need for this sort of facility and without the people, my board of directors and staff, it wouldn’t happen.

If you come to the United States and if you love birds, get in touch with Julie (Dyson) or Janet (Trumbule) here, and come stay for a few days and work with everybody, and really get to know something about the birds here. We have a volunteer program. We’d love to have people from everywhere come out. It will be the hardest job you’ve ever loved. And so we’d love to see that. And maybe you’ll learn something and be able to take it back to wherever you come from and do something for birds there.

For taking wonderful and wholehearted care of vulnerable exotic birds, Supreme Master Ching Hai is honoring The Oasis Sanctuary and Sybil Erden with the Shining World Compassion Award and US$10,000 with gratitude and all love for the noble work.

Bravo, Sybil Erden, for your devoted, inspiring work helping our avian companions and for sharing your beautiful sanctuary with our global audience. Truly the birds there are blessed to be under your care.

For more information on The Oasis Sanctuary, please visit www.The-Oasis.org

Loyal viewers, thank you for your company today on our program. Please join us again tomorrow on Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants for the concluding episode of our series. May we always be under God’s protective wings.