Excitement was in the air at the Cayman Turtle Centre recently as a crowd cheered on a group of young birds making their first foray into the wild.

On Nov. 9 and 10, visitors to the West Bay attraction had the opportunity to enter their names in a draw enabling a lucky few to release a white-crowned pigeon into the wild. The winners – six on the first day and seven on the following day – took part in an organized release of 13 birds.

According to a press release, the indigenous forest species have been bred by the Cayman Turtle Centre over 10 years, and many have been released to the wild. The program began just after Hurricane Ivan destroyed much of their natural habitat, and at that time the birds were considered a threatened species. Thanks in large part to these efforts, however, they are no longer on that list.

“For this release, instead of doing our usual method of just opening the cage door and letting the birds fly out on their own, we decided this time to give our park visitors an opportunity to participate in our local conservation effort,” the Centre’s terrestrial exhibits curator Geddes Hislop said, noting that 16 pigeons were released earlier this year.

“People have taken part in releasing turtles, so this is a chance for them to release one of the white-crowned pigeons too.”

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After hearing their names drawn, the winners were led to the aviary and the pigeons were carried in individual cardboard boxes to the release site, a quiet spot next to the Butterfly Garden. There, the participants placed their boxes on the ground before waiting for Mr. Hislop to give the signal to open the boxes and release the pigeons. The birds quickly made their way into the sky to begin their new lives.

“Although they are no longer considered ‘threatened,’ White Crown pigeons have been made a protected species recently under the new conservation law, so that means that our contribution has become even more significant,” said Mr. Hislop.

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