The Lincolnshire Wildlife Centre in Great Britain has a problem, or thinks it does. Billy, Eric, Tyson, Jade and Elsie, gray parrots all, joined to zoological park’s flock of 200 gray parrots in August, and quickly proved to be a bad influence. All five have a penchant for telling visitors to “fuck off,” and one reportedly has called a zoo manager a “fat twat.” Zookeepers believe the five were encouraging each other to be potty-beaks, and risked turning the entire group of gray parrots into little feathered versions of Bill Maher.
Can’t have that. The zoo is separating Billy, Eric, Tyson, Jade and Elsie for being bad influences on each other and threatening to corrupt the other parrots.
This episode has special resonance with me. In 1988, I had just joined the staff of The Association of Trial Lawyers (now called, to the group’s great shame, The Association for Justice because a consultant found that people don’t like trial lawyers) to run its various profit centers. Almost immediately, I found myself in Maui overseeing the group’s winter convention at the Ka’anapali Beach Hyatt in Lahaina. That sounds nice, but my convention manager was in the process of going nuts, and I was tasked with minimizing the damage when, among other things, she locked herself in our convention headquarters weeping and screaming.
I had other responsibilities as well, including dealing with rebellious exhibitors and moderating various meetings at which virtually no members were attending, given the lure of the warm breezes and Hawaiian surf. On the day ATLA’s new Executive Director screamed at me for not being able to talk my convention manager out of her fortress of solitude, and the exhibitors ambushed me at a meeting and called me a Nazi, I was walking, disconsolate and exhausted, from a meeting room back to the exhibit hall in the late afternoon. As I walked past a large, colorful macaw in a cage, I heard a voice say, “Fuck you!” I remember freezing, turning around, and staring at the bird. “Really?” I said. “Really? That’s just what I needed to hear today.”
“Yes, that’s Opal,” a desk clerk said, laughing, when I related the incident. “She does that.” In retrospect, Opal’s outburst now seems like the high point of that convention. Maybe even of my entire seven year tenure at the association.
Of course, neither Opal nor Billy, Eric, Tyson, Jade and Elsie, are really foul-mouthed. Parrots imitate human sounds, and when they get positive reactions to certain noises, those become their favorites.
The zoo story was similar in key ways to the recent post here (which I can’t find right now, it being 5:45 am and half of my brain still being asleep) about the professor who was disciplined because he mentioned in class a Chinese word that sounds similar to “nigger.” It was unfair to hold him responsible for engaging in racist speech since that was obviously not his intent, and those students who complained were deliberately causing him harm for an innocent act.
Separating the Lincolnshire Five is similarly cruel and unethical. Parrots are social birds, and a group that flocks together will be stressed out by being separated. If anything, the vulgar human idiots who think it’s hilarious to teach birds to make sounds to offend people need to be separated from parrots, and perhaps civil society as well.
The zoo says it is concerned that kids will be traumatized by hearing vulgarities from the parrots. In reality, it will be a an opportunity for those delicate children to be taught by their parents about when an utterance is offensive, and when it isn’t.
They might as well learn the lesson at a zoo; they certainly won’t learn it in school.