THE PROBLEM WITH THE KUALA LUMPUR BIRD PARK
The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park is one of the city’s most widely advertised attractions. You almost forget that KL also has a real zoo when all you see are flyers and billboards for the “World’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary”.
I tend to avoid tourist attractions that involve animals. I have yet to see one that actually treats animals humanely and is educational at the same time. In my opinion, animals should simply not be kept in captivity, especially not to generate a profit and serve as an afternoon activity for bored families who are visiting one of the world’s most magnificent cities but decide to go to a zoo that they could see anywhere in the world instead.
The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park is definitely not the worst zoo I have ever seen. Unfortunately, South East Asia does not have the best reputation in terms of animal treatment so this park might be considered acceptable compared to others I have seen, especially those keeping birds.
Should you go there?
Although my reasons why you should not visit this park are mostly related to the treatment of animals there are others as well. Let’s start from the beginning.
The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park is part of Lake Gardens, which is a large park complex with many attractions such as the botanical gardens, the butterfly park, the National Planetarium and many more. Lake Gardens (or sometimes simply referred to as Perdana Botanical Gardens) is located a 25-minute car ride west of KLCC.
It is somewhat tricky to reach with public transport. Although there are some buses, I would recommend going to KL Sentral Station and then taking a Grab, which only costs around RM5 (≈ 1,10€). I think this is the most convenient transport method if you do decide to visit the Park.
THE WORLD’S LARGEST FREE-FLIGHT WALK-IN AVIARY
On the way to the park, there are many signs proudly advertising it as the “World’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary”. Of course, this immediately sparks interest. There is just something about the phrase “The world’s largest” that draws tourists in like magnets.
The world’s largest shrimp? People queue to take photos.
If no one tells you that this is, in fact, the “world’s largest tree stump” you probably would not have cared. And is it really the world’s largest? Who’s to say and it doesn’t really matter.
So there I was debating on whether I should visit this park. As I mention I usually try to avoid zoos at all cost. But then I looked back at the enticing sign and thought, well a free-flight aviary can’t be that bad. And especially if it’s the world’s largest one.
That must technically mean that these should be the world’s happiest captive birds, right? And if I only visit one bird park it should be this one because it gives its animals the most room to fly.
Of course, another reason I went was that I could write about my experience in hindsight. I had tried to research the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park online beforehand but my search came up pretty inconclusive. The Trip Advisor reviews were either unfathomably bad or stellar. There was no real in-between.
Still, the overall rating was 4.5 stars, which confused me. In hindsight I found the one-star reviews to be the most accurate, so if you want a second opinion you can read some here.
So let me tell you about my personal experience at the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. Despite my obvious bias towards zoos, I did not find it all bad (although it was pretty close).
Let’s begin with what I thought was unacceptable.
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T VISIT THE KUALA LUMPUR BIRD PARK
I was shocked to see how expensive a ticket to the park is. Tourist attractions in Kuala Lumpur tend to be fairly cheap and some are even free such as the Batu Caves. Click here to discover more cheap or free things to do in KL.
The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park costs RM63 (≈ 13,70€) for adults and RM42 (≈ 9,15€) for children under eleven years old. As always Malaysian nationals receive a discounted price.
Although the park is large, RM63 cannot be justified as an entry price in my opinion. By paying so much money to get in I had very high expectations of the interior and ended up being disappointed. This just made me feel as though I was entering a typical tourist trap where the prices are high and there is no real value being delivered.
I would have been fine with paying RM63 or even more if I could have seen evidence of actual efforts being made to create habitable environments for the birds in the park.
Unfortunately, this was not the case and I could not really tell where all the money was going as the park was not as well-kept as I had hoped.
HOLES IN THE NETTING
The conditions in Kuala Lumpur bird Park were not at an acceptable standard. The large netting had multiple holes and I saw multiple escaped birds while I was there.
There seemed to be no effort from the employees to fix the holes or recapture the birds.
The entire place smelled very bad. This is, of course, not surprising considering there are more than 3,000 birds crammed into cages in a small area.
I can not imagine how anyone could enjoy their stay in this park when the smell was so overwhelming. The pond area, as well as the parrot aviaries, were especially bad. I could not spend more than a few minutes here.
TRASH IN THE BIRD EXHIBITS
What bothered me the most was how badly the grounds were kept. I was appalled to see plastic bottles, chips packets and soda cans throughout the park. Now, this is of course not the park’s fault but needs to be blamed on disrespectful visitors. However, all the plastic I saw was old and had to have been sitting there for at least a few months if not more.
Look at the picture below and tell me that soda can has not been around for a while. So what I do not understand is how the employees can blatantly ignore the garbage lying amongst the exotic birds.
Why can I as a visitor spot so much trash within minutes and no one else has picked it up yet?
One of the items I saw was this large container of dishwashing liquid (you can see it on the cover photo for this article) that obviously did not come from a visitor but had to have come from the park itself. How it ended up in the bird exhibit and why no one had removed it I do not understand.
In one of the aviaries, there were puddles with what seemed to be motor oil.
I do not have to mention the bird excrement that was everywhere in the aviaries. Of course, this is unavoidable if you are keeping birds in captivity but there was just so much of it.
There were just far too many birds in one place.
THE TREATMENT OF THE BIRDS IN THE KUALA LUMPUR BIRD PARK
In some way, all the other reasons why you should not visit Kuala Lumpur Bird Park add up to this one. The treatment of the birds in Kuala Lumpur Bird Park is unacceptable in my opinion. Here are some examples.
I visited this bird park because the promise of a free-flight aviary sounded more humane than birds being kept in cages.
Although the aviary (at least the first one) was very large I was disappointed to see that most of the birds were exhibited in smaller cages or aviaries within the large aviary.
The emu and ostrich exhibit was especially depressing. These are birds made for running and keeping them in a fenced-in area not even the size of a basketball court was heartbreaking to see.
The cassowary was lying in the dirt in a corner of its cage. Just like the hornbill, it was alone without any contact with other birds.
TOO MANY BIRDS
There were so many birds in the main aviary that it was hard not to trip over one. Birds were perched on nearly every tree available, including the large iron poles holding up the nets.
I think I have never seen so many in one place.
I was shocked to see storks of different varieties being the most common bird in this area. Storks are long-distance migratory birds. They should not be kept in an aviary that barely allows them to fly at all since the netting is very low and the trees obstruct any clear flight paths.
In the round aviary at the back of the park, there was a single stork who kept flying in circles even though he continued to bump into the netting. It was a horribly sad thing to see.
The worst part of the park were the many caged birds. Although the aviaries were not an ideal habitat, at least the birds had some sort of freedom and the ability to move around and fly short distances. The birds in cages were not so fortunate.
I would estimate that about half the birds in the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park were kept in cages either within the large aviaries or in a separate, open-air area. Most of them were small, approximately 3 x 3-metre cages with a bare tree in the middle and not much else.
These bird exhibits were sad and smelled very bad. The birds were usually perched at the top of the cage to get some shelter from the sun. By far the worst exhibit of the entire park was the eagle aviary (if you can even call it that).
Around fifteen of these majestic birds were kept in an extremely small enclosure. One of them was repeatedly fluttering into the netting.
Keeping birds such as peacocks, swans and other waterbirds in enclosures is questionable enough but an eagle that is made for hunting and flying fast is not meant to live in a cage, especially not in large numbers. I can understand people visiting the aviary and thinking the birds are living a decent life here but how anyone can look at the eagle exhibit and think that is okay is beyond me.
Unfortunately, it gets worse.
Next to the eagles was the owl exhibit, which was just as heartbreaking. These birds were not caged but sitting in a sort of wall on various branches and perches. They were not chained, which usually means their wings are clipped to keep them from flying away.
Wing-clipping is not an uncommon practise among birdkeepers, mostly to keep the bird from injuring itself or escaping when kept in a private home. I find it a questionable practice in general but that is beside the point.
The owls were sitting in broad daylight, trying to sleep in the sun while visitors were trying to get their attention by making loud noises. It was a bizarre sight and I do not understand how anyone could enjoy this.
A similar exhibit also exists for parrots were tourists can take photos with them for a fee of RM15 (≈ 3,30€). At least they are not nocturnal.
BAD BEHAVIOUR OF TOURISTS AND THE LACK OF STAFF
When I visited I immediately noticed the lack of staff present throughout the park. Although there were signs telling visitors to keep their distance from the birds and not touch or startle them, few people actually followed these rules.
The down-side of having a walk-in aviary is that everyone can just approach and harass the birds freely. Many people will do anything to get the perfect photo. I saw people clap loudly to get a bird’s attention, I saw birds being chased, people sticking their hands in cages and people feeding birds with the fish food that is sold throughout the park.
The list goes on. Many visitors blatantly ignored the clearly marked walkways and decided to wander into the nesting areas. No wonder most of the birds in the park are perched on trees as far up as possible.
I saw only one member of staff during my visit to the bird park. Only at the bird show, they had five employees present for no apparent reason. Considering the fact that they charge RM63 as an entrance fee I would expect there to be more employees available to enforce the park rules and protect the birds.
PAST CONTROVERSIES SURROUNDING THE PARK
Through a bit of research, I soon discovered that the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park has been subject to criticism in the past. Since its opening in 1991, there have been numerous complaints and investigations into its treatment of animals. There used to be more types of animals in the park, not just birds.
In her book “Speaking up for Animals” the American author Lisa Kemmerer recounts orang-utans being forced to perform in shows and physically punished if they misbehaved in 2005. The incident was reported to the Wildlife Department of the Office of Trade Record Analysis for Flora and Fauna in Commerce and it was discovered that the orang-utans were smuggled illegally from Indonesia, which forced the park to discontinue its monkey exhibits. The book is available on Amazon.
In 2016 visitors of the park started a petition to conduct veterinary health checks on all birds and initiate a general cleaning. This was after visitors noticed ticks on many birds as well as missing feathers and unnatural behaviour. The main initiator of the petition also claimed that some birds were being fed the wrong diets and their habitat amongst so many other species was unsuitable.
The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park responded by denying any accusations and assured that all birds were being treated well.
The petition gained 719 signatures but no changes were implemented according to the information available online. Read the full petition here.
The blog An Epic Education posted this article in 2016 on the park and treatment of animals in South East Asia in general. It makes some interesting arguments about travelling with children and the dilemma of whether visiting zoos is acceptable or not.
WHAT I FOUND POSITIVE ABOUT THE KUALA LUMPUR BIRD PARK
While I found the park to be horrible for the most part I do want to mention some positive things I noticed.
Firstly, the vegetation in the park is quite nice. Especially zones one and two have elaborate waterfalls and greenery. They could be a great habitat for birds if it weren’t for the giant nets above. The park is also very large. If you look at every exhibit you can easily spend three hours here. Still, I do not think the size justifies the price. I have seen similar fees for zoos three or four times the size with far better animal treatment.
I did notice that the park somewhat tries to educate its visitors on the birds. There were some educational rooms with information about different bird species and their habits. You could see how chicken eggs are incubated and hatched and learn about how to spot bird nests and so on.
I appreciated this effort to raise some awareness for birds. Although it was far from perfect at least they tried.
The hornbill exhibit, for example, stated that this type of bird flies long distances and enjoys companions. Unfortunately, the hornbill in the Kuala Lumpur bird park has to sit alone in a tiny cage with neither companions nor room to fly. Maybe the park administration should start reading their own labels.
THE BIRD SHOW
The park holds different events throughout the day. I watched the bird show which is held twice daily. This was a 20-minute event with parrots who performed little tricks and solved puzzles. It was not an amazing show but it was okay. It seemed as if the trainers really cared for their birds and as far as I could tell they were treated well.
At least these birds had some sort of entertainment and tasks they could do and were not alone in a cage all day. Then again 20 minutes twice a day is not enough stimulation for these extremely intelligent animals.
It could have been worse is all I’m trying to say.
Of course, I only saw the performance, not how the birds are trained. Because of this, it is hard for me to give the park credit for the show since I do not have all the information.
IF YOU DO DECIDE TO VISIT KUALA LUMPUR BIRD PARK
If this post did not convince you and you are planning to visit the park despite its practises, I can give you some tips on how to best do it and at least make your experience a bit more enjoyable. As mentioned before you should take a taxi there. Walking will take you at least 30 minutes if not more from Pasar Seni Station and a Grab is very affordable. The Lake Gardens are not a flat area so you will be walking uphill at times which can be exhausting in the sun.
You will walk a lot within the park because it is so large. Take comfortable shoes and bring sunscreen and insect repellant.
There is only one restaurant near the park so either be prepared to eat mediocre, slightly expensive food there or make other plans to eat before or after visiting.
Watch out for the monkeys. Since there are some holes in the netting monkeys get into the aviaries and steal food and personal items from unsuspecting tourists. Do not provoke them or look at them directly and you should be fine.
When you are ready to leave do not take one of the taxis waiting in front of the park. They charge an additional fee for pick up here. Get a Grab, which will be much cheaper.
While you are at the Lake Gardens there are plenty of other activities. You can visit the Botanical Gardens, the National Mosque, the National Planetarium, the Police Museum and many more. Most are within walking distance or a short Grab-ride away.
The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park is not an attraction you should visit on your trip to Malaysia. The negative far outweighs the positive in my opinion. Save the money you would spend on visiting the park and donate it to a reputable animal conservation program that will help us learn more about these magnificent birds and protect them in the future.
Of course, it is interesting to see exotic birds face-to-face.
Of course, you can take great pictures of birds here.
But sometimes you have to prioritise the well-being of others at the expense of your own enjoyment. Especially if that enjoyment lasts 3 hours and costs RM63.
Click here to find our complete list of things to do in KL.