It was a dark and stormy night.
No, scratch that.
It was a chilly and overcast day in November of 1996.
I was a freshman at BYU, rooming with my best friend from high school and trying to navigate a world that relied on public transportation, hours of pouring over indecipherable math homework and long distance bills that would have made Bill Gates cringe. Cori, one of five other girls that I lived with in an on-campus apartment, but the only one I’d known for years and the one with whom I plotted dorm details, like how I would bring a computer for us to share (can you imagine roommates sharing a computer these days?!) and she would bring the stereo system, was an elementary education major. One of her first semester classes was biology-something-or-another, which required an outing to the Salt Lake City aviary to observe the birds who called the park home. Since the holidays were just around the corner, we decided to make a day of it, going into SLC to check off the boxes on her assignment and then hitting up the mall to do a bit of Christmas shopping with the measly amount of money we each had in our bank accounts.
Neither of us had taken a car to college freshman year, which meant we became pretty adept at the bus system in Provo/Orem, but moving outside of that bubble was a bit of a risk. We knew there was a commuter bus that went to downtown Salt Lake and we knew where we needed to be in the city, but how to match up those two points was a mystery. In the days before Google could answer any and all questions, we did what many folks did- just go for it and figure out the details along the way.
I honestly don’t remember where the first bus dropped us or how we got to the aviary (although I do have a slight recollection of having to schlep quite a distance, on foot), but I know we eventually made it to the park. I’m sure we spent a few hours wandering the park, Cori taking notes on the various hollow-boned critters and making a spreadsheet of information to write up into a report later that weekend, but my main memories include having a snow owl screech at me as if I were trying to kill her babies and thinking that the emus looked like something out of Jurassic Park. (Using the bathroom at the park, I distinctly recall imagining the possibility of those crazy birds surrounding the facilities and strategically attacking like the velociraptors do in the movie.)
And then the snow started. Just as we were getting ready to finish up at the aviary, snow started coming down like it was Christmas in a children’s book, quickly covering the ground and soaking our winter coats. The mall got cut from the day’s itinerary and I remember being miserably cold and wet on the bus ride back to Provo.
It’s funny how a single day, nearly twenty years ago (eeek! Is that even possible?) can color ones view decades later. I’m not sure I’ve been to a proper aviary since that bitterly cold day in 1996. Yes, I’ve been to zoos with bird zones and amusement parks with netted bird areas, but a full-on aviary has been absent from my life since the day the snow owl and emus tried to take me down (at least, in my overly active imagination.)
Last weekend, we remedied that unknown hole in my life, visiting the KL Bird Park, here in the center of Kuala Lumpur. And, I must say, it was a much more positive (and warmer!) experience than that one gray November day, freshman year.
The KL Bird Park is almost entirely covered in a net, meaning many of the critters roam freely, waddling across the pathway in front of visitors, flying overhead or perching in trees, awaiting another round of papaya deliveries from the staff. The best part of the day though, was the bird photo booth. For a mere ten ringgit, you get to choose two birds to sit with and get your photo taken. (I discovered afterwards for thirty-five ringgit, you can get all the birds! I will definitely be going that route next time we visit. All the birds!) I picked out the biggest birds they had- a Malaysian owl and a hornbill for my monumental photo op.
It was awesome!
But, to add to my teenage terror of the raptor-like emu attack, the KL aviary had a bird I had never seen before- a creature that looked like a prehistoric version of the emu. He was the same height and size as a regular emu, but with a head that looked like it belonged on a dinosaur- ancient and brightly colored. I don’t know where this thing has been my whole life, but it’s a good thing my 1996-self didn’t have an inkling of its existence.
Public transportation, bitterly cold November weather, soaking snow and attack birds
Self-driving, tropical afternoon atmosphere and holding friendly fowl
The winner is pretty clear- the KL Bird Park will definitely be on our attraction list for future visitors! All that is needed is a handful of ringgit and a camera. We’ll provide the transportation and tropical weather.