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N.C. Zoo aviary would be replaced under state budget plan

A blue-crowned hanging parrot from Asia rests in the R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary when it was open at the N..C. Zoo.

A blue-crowned hanging parrot from Asia rests in the R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary when it was open at the N..C. Zoo.

N.C. Zoological Park

The N.C. Zoo would get the go-ahead to rebuild one of its most popular attractions — the aviary — under a proposed state budget acquired by The News & Observer this week.

Deep in the document, where it briefly describes specific appropriations for projects within the state Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, it reads, “NC Zoological Park New Aviary Exhibit Building. Provides funding to construct a new Aviary Exhibit Building at the North Carolina Zoo. The total amount authorized for the project is $60 million.”

Of the total, the budget would authorize $3 million in fiscal 2023-24 and another $3 million in fiscal 2024-25.

Those amounts align with Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposal, crafted earlier this year, in which he asked for:

$3 million to take down the old aviary building, which has been closed to visitors since 2022.

$3 million to design a new aviary on a different site on the zoo grounds that would be subject to less erosion.

$60 million total to bring the building to completion.

A tropical heliconia plant was one of more than 2,000 plants of 45 species that grew inside the R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary at the N.C. Zoo.
A tropical heliconia plant was one of more than 2,000 plants of 45 species that grew inside the R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary at the N.C. Zoo. N.C. Zoological Park

Moisture and mold problems

The R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary opened in 1982, partially funded by the tobacco company. It was the first permanent indoor exhibit at the park, which sits outside of Asheboro.

The building was closed in December 1998 for 18 months of repair and renovation, which included replacing the heating, cooling and ventilation systems, as well as some of the floors.

But 22 years later, the building was in bad shape again.

Zoo officials asked for an inspection of the Forest Aviary building and were told of serious safety issues with the roof and the ground beneath the structure.
Zoo officials asked for an inspection of the Forest Aviary building and were told of serious safety issues with the roof and the ground beneath the structure. N.C. Zoological Park

In order for the aviary’s 100 or so tropical birds and more than 2,000 exotic plants to thrive, the building’s humidity had to be kept high, comparable to a rainforest. But the moisture was hard on the structure, causing mold to grow and metal and concrete to degrade.

In addition, the roof leaked despite repeated repairs, and the ground under the building was slowly washing away because of erosion on the site.

Eventually, engineers said the building was beyond repair and needed to be closed to protect the animals, guests and zoo staff. The aviary’s birds — 33 species — were relocated to other parts of the park or sent to other accredited zoos.

A blue-crowned hanging parrot from Asia rests in the R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary when it was open at the N..C. Zoo.
A blue-crowned hanging parrot from Asia rests in the R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary when it was open at the N..C. Zoo. N.C. Zoological Park

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.

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