Texas aquarium home to serval, coati, other non-marine animals

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Bird facility, 1st of a 10-year expansion plan, opens in April

By Mike Baird Caller Times
December 14, 2006

A new outdoor theater at the Texas State Aquarium will showcase aerial antics of feathered species through free-flight performances, giving visitors up-close demonstrations with parrots, hawks, owls, falcons and a turkey vulture.

Aquarium officials announced Wednesday the 6,000-square-foot outdoor aviary amphitheater with seating for 300 is planned for completion in April.

The Earl C. Sams Foundation gave $350,000 for the Wild Flight Theater.

“Aside from the educational value, getting close to the birds is an integral step of upgrading the aquarium by exposing visitors to other wildlife,” said Kristin Ralls, the aquarium’s manager of marketing and communications. “The bird amphitheater will be a great draw as something new – like no place in South Texas.”

Lawyer Bruce Hawn, who has served on the aquarium’s board of directors for six years, said he is celebrating his family’s philanthropic foundation’s 60-year anniversary with the monetary gift to help build the theater. Another $50,000 in aquarium funds and private donations also will be used for the theater, already under construction in a former storage area.

The foundation emerged with a focus on conservation and wildlife preservation, and this exhibit continues that vision, Hawn said. It also will bring visitors in close contact with small exotic mammals: coati, a dirt-rooting ring-tailed relative of raccoons; serval, an African cousin of bobcats; and a lesser anteater.

The amphitheater is part of a 10-year plan to expand Conservation Cove, an outdoor area including several habitats. Other elements of the plan include building a boardwalk, enlarging the aquarium’s marsh exhibit and improving on existing otter, sea turtle and alligator habitats.

When complete, the cove expansion will require 13 additional employees, said aquarium CEO Tom Schmid. Three of those will work with the ampitheater.

What will visitors learn at Wild Flight Theater?

After standing in animal carcasses to feed, turkey vultures dribble their extremely acidic urine down their legs to clean them, said Lorie Schwar, staff bird keeper and falconer. She told supporters Wednesday about Cowboy, a crested caracara, chatty birds of prey that have learned to torment turkey vultures to prompt them to vomit. “The vultures are too heavy to fly away after eating,” Schwar said, “and caracara have learned by tormenting them they can collect a free and warm meal.”

Contact Mike Baird at 886-3774 or HYPERLINK mailto:bairdm@caller.com bairdm@caller.com


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