It's quiet here. We're up a hill, kind of isolated. There's a behavior watch going on with the kori bustards -- we found that 350 people pass by in an hour. Not a whole lot of people come to the zoo to see birds. They definitely don't come to the zoo to see kori bustards. That has its good and bad parts. I go by the pandas sometimes, and it's just jammed. With high crowd levels, some of the birds retreat to the back of the enclosure. I kind of like it this way, but I probably shouldn't say that -- not if we're trying to tell people bustards are important. I just think they're a beautiful species. They're shot for food; they collide with power lines; they get into poisons; they don't necessarily reproduce every year; they have a small number of chicks; and they're vulnerable when young. I know to you they all look alike, but to me they are as individual as you and me.
They have an unfortunate name: Sometimes people say "kori bastard" and laugh, and everyone who says that thinks they're the first one who's ever said it. Or they don't read the sign right and think it says "buzzard." Here's an example of what it's like to work with an animal that's not a panda or an elephant or a tiger. You get people walking through who say: "Where are the real animals? How do you get out of here?" Depending on what kind of mood I'm in, I'll say, "Here's a real animal!"
It doesn't make you feel very good. When an elephant dies, they bring in a grief counselor for the keepers. When a kori died a few years ago, we didn't get any grief counselors. I guess people can't relate to birds as much.
There've been studies on why people love pandas: They have features like human babies -- big eyes, an oversize head, tubby, short limbs. You ever see a baby kori bustard? That's very cute. "Cute" is not a word you hear with koris. Probably all the time at the Panda House, or giraffes. Maybe with us you hear pretty, or ugly, or interesting -- but cute, no.
-- Interview by Ellen Ryan