Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Desperate Adventures of Zeno & Alya

Maybe I'm just more attuned to them right now but parrots keep popping up around me. Monk parrots (also called Quaker parrots) are in the trees around Austin and recently the City of McAllen, TX passed an ordinance protecting introduced parrots from being harmed or captured. 

Regardless of why I'm reading more about them, African Grey parrots have certainly been finding their way into children's books this past year. Like Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird,  The Desperate Adventures of Zeno & Alya features one of these highly intelligent, very social, birds. Zeno knows he is a “Booful, briyant bird,” because his late “servant,” Dr. Agard, often told him so. For many years, Dr. Agard lived and worked with Zeno. Zeno understood and could speak more than 127 words. But one morning Dr. Agard doesn't get up and Zeno is left alone. His advanced vocabulary and intelligence didn't do anything to prepare Zeno for a life on his own. Flying around Brooklyn, Zeno lands on Alya's window. Battling leukemia Alya is just as desperate and nervous as Zeno. She feels totally caged in by her illness, unable to do much of anything for herself, and counting the number of times (9,595 at last count) that her mother strokes her head. Zeno is so confused and uncertain about his new-found freedom that he is plucking out his own feathers. (Reading about Zeno's trials and tribulations I kept hearing the Janis Joplin/Kris Kristofferson lyrics from Me and Bobby Mcgee--"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." At one point Zeno literally has nothing left to lose as he is a bald parrot.) In a story that is sad, funny, and joyful, Zeno and Alya find each other, lose each other, and finally find each other again. It is a story of friendship and hope, for both species. Oh, and banana muffins play a major role in the story. What could be better?
Monk parrot
(licensed under Creative Commons)

Author Jane Kelley acknowledges Dr. Irene Pepperberg's work with Alex as the inspiration for this story. As with the many of the best stories, there is some basis for it from the real world. There really are a lot of wild parrots in Brooklyn. The most reasonable story for the origin of this wild flock is a crate accidentally opened at JFK Airport resulting in a "great escape." Zeno mentions the Great Escape, having heard about it from Monk parrots he meets on his adventures. 

African Grey parrots have also been re-introduced to the wild by organizations like The World Parrot Trust and people like Jane Goodall. Like Zeno, these birds don't immediately rush to freedom when the cage doors open. About 80% of illegally captured birds die while they are being trafficked and the mortality rate for legally traded birds is 40-50% between capture and export. In the wild Grey parrots may live to be 25, while properly cared for captive birds can live twice as long.

Final thought....oh my gosh. While writing this post I learned about a Parrot Lovers cruise out of Galveston. Wow! Who wants to go with me? 

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