By Charlena Wynn
“If we give up on the world, it will go away,” says Brent Lubbuck, Membership and Development Projects Manager for Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, North Carolina. To protect endangered birds, Mike Lubbuck, Executive Director, and Sylvan Heights has found that by first working with international and local communities and creating interactive experiences for guests of the Bird Park, the public can take an interest in protecting and conserving natural habitats for birds. Engagement, education, and research are at the core of Sylvan’s mission. By working with the public and emphasizing the consequences of destroying the natural environment, Sylvan has been able to educate other animal protection agencies and individuals on the connections between the health of the earth, animal protection, and human health.
When Mike Lubbuck began what would become a 50-year career in waterfowl conservation at Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in England, he recognized a great need for creating and finding space to protect countless species of birds globally. Upon settling in North Carolina, he created Sylvan Heights in 1985, which has worked with communities to educate and create safe habitats for some of the world’s most endangered avian species.
Sylvan Heights uses a community-based participatory approach for waterfowl conservation by working with various populations to educate and create meaningful relationships to protect waterfowl everywhere. The staff welcomes all donations, involvement, awareness, and action as each act significantly changes to course of life and health for birds, the earth, and people. Thus, survival breeding programming and relocating species to new habitats becomes more attainable and culturally sensitive. Merging habitat with animal protection efforts has been increasingly beneficial to Sylvan. “You have to give people something in return,” says Mike Lubbuck. When people can see and understand why waterfowl conservation and survival breeding are important, it creates a space of global responsibility and compassion. Interactive education such as teaching visitors about the 2500 birds at the park and the consequences if they were to become extinct, contextualizes how important waterfowl conservation and bird protection is for all. Visitors, particularly children, have the opportunity to experience nature. For some, this unique experience is the first time they have engaged with environment in this way. “If we can reach two children we have done our job,” says Mike.
Cultivating the natural environment has become a crucial component of survival breeding. Without an action plan for safe and appropriate habitats, survival breeding becomes obsolete. Invasive species pose a threat to endangered birds. Former and new habitats must be adequately researched to ensure the best possible outcome for newly released birds. Locating and researching spaces for birds becomes just as important as educating visitors of the Bird Park on the species they are viewing. Networking with global communities not only helps recognize endangered species but also engages with the culture surrounding these environments.
Additionally, exchanging of knowledge between Sylvan Heights and communities and wildlife practitioners has been essential in locating new habitats, transition efforts for the birds and the people living in these spaces, and fosters new initiatives to restore previous environments. While the park concentrates on a small number of species due to the staff size and budgetary constraints, working with other countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, and Cambodia allows for Sylvan Heights to broaden their scope and “engage in joint ventures with other like-minded organizations to further collective knowledge.”
Exchanging knowledge between others has proven to be helpful in protecting wetlands and saving birds across the globe. The survival breeding program has worked with the State of Hawaii and their efforts to save Hawaiian Ducks. While the total number of Hawaiian Ducks has increased from 300 in 1951 to 2,500 birds presently due to the World Wildlife Fund and State of Hawaii’s captive propagation and release program, these birds are still vulnerable according to Sylvan Heights. Other programs involving saving and protecting the Madagascar Teal, White-winged Wood Duck, and the Pink-eared Duck, address natural disasters and human activity as two major contributors in animal extinction.
While much of Sylvan’s programming focuses on conservation, MikeLubbuck points to preventative measures as well. Research and educational programming help push this effort. Sylvan Heights Avian Husbandry Program works with wildlife professionals in an advisor and advisee relationship to increase their knowledge of aviculture. The one to two week program works with individuals all over the globe wanting to better serve avian species in the area of breeding and care. Students of the husbandry program are encouraged to introduce Sylvan to other endangered or potentially endangered avian species as well as conduct research. A student who had interned with the program conducted a study on the population size of the White-winged Wood Duck in Indonesia.
This study has been helpful in locating this largely overlooked breed. Educating practitioners on environmental concerns and avian diversity has enabled students of the program to leave with a better understanding of waterfowl breeding, bird identification, and handling.
Sylvan Heights recognizes the interconnectedness of nature and humanity as the bigger picture of waterfowl conservation and avian protection. Education, engagement, and research drive the mission of Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Working with international communities offers a space of creativity and learning for this nonprofit. Working together is most important for the success of Sylvan says Brent. Because Sylvan recognizes the strengths of community, they have made strong connections locally and globally. The knowledge communities hold is critical to wildlife protection.
Sylvan Heights Bird Park is dedicated to educating people about the importance of conservation and research, focusing on waterfowl and wetland habitats. The 18-acre facility, featuring large walk- through aviaries, gives visitors an unforgettable up-close experience with over 2,000 ducks, geese, swans, and other exotic birds from around the world. Charlena Wynn is currently pursuing her Master’s of Arts in Liberal Studies at NC State University with a concentration in examining the construction of Blackness in contemporary United States museums.