ZOO TALES: Waterfowl Center Saving Endangered Species
Few North Carolinians outside of Halifax County in the coastal, northeastern part of the state realize that the largest collection of waterfowl in the world is right here in our state. The Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park, a nine-acre waterfowl sanctuary and breeding facility in Scotland Neck, is home to more than 1,000 birds representing about 170 species --along with 30 other rare species from parrots to emus.
Since 1989, the facility has been dedicated to waterfowl breeding and conservation, especially of endangered species. During that time, the center's director, Mike Lubbock -- a world-renowned waterfowl expert and breeder -- and his wife Ali, have been responsible for more than 18 world first-breedings of waterfowl species and 15 North America first-breedings. It's an accomplishment unsurpassed in the waterfowl breeding community throughout the world.
The center's mission is simple: a dedication to the survival of the world's waterfowl species in both the wild and in zoological and private collections. In addition to being North America's premier facility for breeding rare and endangered waterfowl, Sylvan Heights has become a center for wild waterfowl conservation research and avicultural training in North America. Biologists and researchers from all over the world now come to the center to work on avian projects.
In addition to expanding the existing breeding projects at the center, another of their goals is to develop conservation-oriented educational programs.
Since 1984, the Lubbocks have trained more than 300 interns, volunteers and future curators from the United States and from more than 25 other countries.
"It's not just about the possibility of reintroducing birds back into the wild," Ali Lubbock said.
"It's the education of young people and teaching them about the wetlands through the waterfowl. (The birds are) a great tool to teach children, and therefore, it's not just about saving the rare and endangered bird species but about educating people on saving wetlands."
To this end, the N.C. Zoological Society, which has financially supported the Sylvan Heights facility since 1997, purchased 18 acres for a new park that opened there in 2006.
The park was a collaborative effort between the waterfowl center and the Zoo Society and has become a world-class eco-tourism center where visitors can explore aviaries representative of the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
The facility also includes the Center for Advanced Avian Studies that has become a hub for programs and projects to preserve endangered waterfowl around the world.
In addition to the park's visitor center and exhibits, a portion of the 18 acres is used as a nature sanctuary with feeding areas and lakes to attract some of the thousands of migratory birds that winter near Scotland Neck.
Many zoos and other animal facilities carry on numerous high-profile breeding and conservation programs for exotic animals such as elephants, rhinos and the great apes. But very few of these institutions conduct any significant breeding of some of the world's most threatened waterfowl.
According to the Lubbocks, these bird species and many more are currently in a fight for survival. Only through the efforts of a few knowledgeable and dedicated aviculturalists, like those at Sylvan Heights, are the world's major breeding and research projects conducted and species saved from extinction.
But they need assistance. The public can make donations to the Sylvan Heights center by phone through the N.C. Zoo Society at (336) 879-7251 or toll-free at (888) 244-3736 or through the Waterfowl Park's Web site at www.shwpark.com/.
With the public's support, the waterfowl center in Scotland Neck can leave a legacy of wildlife preservation excellence as they continue to save endangered species from extinction and to educate the next generation of waterfowl conservationists.
Tom Gillespie works for the public affairs office at the N.C. Zoo.
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