Surreal, there’s no other word for it.
On Easter Sunday, Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, visited Taronga Zoo and opened the new Bilby exhibit named in honour of their son, Prince George. Following that the young Prince retired for a nap, but the Royal couple continued on to meet our Tree Kangaroos, Giraffes, and then eventually made their way down to watch the Bird Show.
The latter was most relevant to me as I was the person presenting the show. **Eeep!**
In February the Bird Show team were briefed about our very special guests and the role we were to play. This role involved preparing and delivering an entirely new show incorporating a greater diversity of Australian wildlife. What does that mean? We wanted to showcase our country’s unique mammals too, including echidnas, koalas and quokkas.
The future stars were already accustomed to meeting people at our education centre, but there was still a long way to go to pull together a seamless show!
Our goal is to ensure the animals participating in our Bird Show enjoy their time as much as the visitors that come to watch. To achieve this we take small steps, reward behaviours we want, and always give our animals choice. Their welfare is our number one concern. To be able to release our birds, watch them soar, squawk, and stoop, and then have them return is a most rewarding feeling.
Finally the big day of the Royal visit arrived. There was a buzz in the air all day and smiles were perpetual, although part of that could have been because we were working with the happiest animal known to man, the quokka.
Then the radio call came through announcing that our special guests had arrived. My heart was beating so hard I’m sure anyone could have seen it pound through my chest.
I took a breath, walked out onto the stage, and then saw them, and all my nerves faded away. There they were smiling and laughing, the most wonderfully down-to-earth people you could ever meet.
The show went off without a hitch, and the stars were perfect. Looking back, I am so proud of what those furry and feathered stars achieved, and couldn’t have wished for a better outcome.
Following the show I had the incredibly humbling experience of meeting Their Royal Highnesses as they were invited on stage to meet the stars.
A moment that will stay with me forever is when the Duchess of Cambridge patted Jindi, our female Short-beaked Echidna. Jindi pulsed with excitement and the Duchess of Cambridge laughed with pure contentment. It was infectious and I couldn’t help but do the same. The royal couple then met our quokka and koala, Leuca, before taking their leave.
This opportunity was not only immensely memorable, but to-date the most positive experience I’ve had the pleasure to be involved in. The support, professionalism, and positivity of my colleagues was mind-blowing and I was incredibly proud to have the chance to share our incredible diversity of wildlife and commitment to conservation with the world.
It was clear the Royal couple share our commitment to conservation, and if we can all take small actions towards a larger goal, there is every chance we can ensure a shared future for ourselves and wildlife.
- Bird Show keeper, Brendan Host