This Aviary is Home to Nearly 500 Species of (Mostly) Parrots

How many pets is too many? Two dogs? Three cats? 2,000 parrots? Don't tell that to Dr. Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji — he's the spiritual leader of the ashram Avadootha Datta Peetham, and the proprietor of Shuka Vana, the aviary that holds a Guinness World Record.

Take Me Down to the Parrot Guy's City

The seed of Shuka Vana ("Parrot Park") was planted in 2011, when Sachchidananda Swamiji was visiting South America for a religious event. When his boat overturned off the coast of Venezuela, he was entranced by a flock of white Amazon birds that circled overhead while he waited to be rescued. When he returned to India, he was gifted 25 parrots in need of medical care. He took this as a sign, and suddenly his religious practice took on a whole new dimension.

In the years since, the family of birds at Shuka Vana has swelled. They come from all over the world, and many of them arrive at the aviary in medical need. Every patient at the park was born and raised in captivity and therefore can't be released back into the wild. But that's just fine. Shuka Vana gives the birds one acre (roughly half a hectare) to fly around freely, so many of them just stay around after they've recovered. That's how the aviary has grown to a population of about 2,100 colorful residents.

But it isn't the number of birds at Shuka Vana that earned it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. It's the diversity. The aviary has no fewer than 468 different species, mostly parrots, and a large veterinary team to keep that flock happy and healthy. They even help to make sure the birds can find friends and partners in their new home by creating mini-flocks of birds with different personalities. That's important, as resident specialist Dr. Dasari Srilakshmi told Atlas Obscura, because "Birds of the parrot family bond for life monogamously. The bonding could be male-male, female-male, or female-female."

Faith and Feathers

Sachchidananda Swamiji's parrot paradise certainly has a noble mission in terms of the well-being of both individual birds and endangered species, but it also holds great religious significance. To him, the birds represent the interconnectivity of life on Earth.

While people are generally able to recognize a common humanity in others, even if we don't share a language, culture, or religion, we have a much harder time relating to animals of other species. But in Sachchidananda Swamiji's view, parrots don't have that problem. "[A parrot] empathizes with everyone and everything that it comes in contact with, and blends its voice with theirs," he says. "It makes no distinction, be it a speaking or coughing human, a meowing cat, a mooing cow, a barking dog, a ringing telephone, a beating hammer, a slamming car door, or a beeping electronic gadget." You know what, that's really inspiring. We're getting a little misty-eyed — or maybe we're just pining for the fjords.

Meet the Biggest and Bluest Parrot in the World

Written by Reuben Westmaas November 16, 2017