ASHEBORO — Today, the North Carolina Zoo announces the permanent closure of its Aviary Habitat.
Built in the early 1980s, the 40-year-old domed structure requires significant repairs due to the effects of high humidity and wet conditions. The difficult decision to close and take down the habitat has been made by Zoo leadership and the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
"For 40 years, the Zoo's Aviary offered a special place to connect with nature," said North Carolina Zoo's Director Pat Simmons. "The free-flying birds and tropical plants served as an oasis for many people - guests and staff alike. It was a heart-wrenching decision to close the Aviary; however, safety is our highest priority.”
There are 93 birds of 33 species that are in the process of being relocated to other parts of the Zoo or re-homed at other Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facilities. More than 2000 plants of 450 species live in the Aviary, and the Zoo is working on logistics for removing the plant collections. The closure of the Aviary Habitat will not result in Zoo staff losing their jobs; some may be reassigned elsewhere in the Zoo as plans are developed for changes in the animal and plant collections.
"It is truly an immersive habitat, and guests often remarked that they felt as though they were really in a tropical forest. To hear the swoosh of a Victoria Crowned Pigeon as it flies by is magical," said the Zoo's Curator of Birds, Debbie Zombeck. "To watch the birds' natural behaviors as they forage for food, build nests and raise their young made the Aviary a must-see destination in the state."
Zombeck has been at the Zoo for 29 years as a Bird Supervisor and then Curator of Birds.
The Aviary has been closed since earlier this year, on January 24, 2022, due to recent threats from the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). The HPAI virus is a highly contagious disease that can affect several species of birds. None of the Zoo's birds have tested positive for the virus.
The Zoo plans to take down the building. There are no immediate plans to rebuild the Aviary, and future plans will require further study and budgetary considerations.