A Lebanese Forest Menagerie

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Al-Akhbar Management

Maiki has dedicated his life to collecting animals, especially birds. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Robert Abdallah

Published Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rizkallah Maiki’s Bird and Poultry Farm is somewhere between a sanctuary and a petting zoo, a place where local schoolchildren, scouts and tourists come to see the many types of birds Maiki has collected over the years, as well as the goats, hedgehogs and gazelles.

Located in the pine woods and orchards of Halsaban on the outskirts of Qubayyat, the farm started as a conservationist’s hobby but has now become something of a local attraction. Birdsong echoes throughout the Halsaban valley, where urban sprawl has started encroaching on the forest, affecting the local animals and their habitat.

Before he started husbandry, Maiki used to hunt birds. Coming from an impoverished background, Maiki and his friends would use slingshots instead of guns. The improvised slingshots would take two to man, and when well aimed could offer a fatal strike.

It was not long before Maiki stopped hunting birds, preferring to collect them instead. His favorites are goldfinches and nightingales, the former for its beauty and the latter for its friendly disposition, which makes it easy to care for.

When Maiki grew up and started working, unlike his friends, he did not go out and buy a gun with his first paycheck. Instead, he began buying birds.

His first bird was a canary. He then bought some birds of paradise and some lovebirds. His cages became bigger and the number of birds increased until the house became too small for Maiki and his birds. In 1993, he decided to build a farm. The area around his house became a small wood, hosting many species of birds, very few of them familiar to the people of the village.

With time, he noticed that some birds, such as the peacock, were exceedingly noisy. Maiki, who was always proud when people came to look at his birds, did not want his farm to be a nuisance to others. He moved his farm to the wooded area of Halsaban, where he built a summer home for himself among the pine trees.

This was his golden opportunity to add to his menagerie. In addition to the partridges and pheasants, he has added Swiss goats, rabbits and geese. Maiki has dedicated his life to collecting animals, especially birds. Maiki jokes of turning his farm into a Noah’s ark with a pair of every species.

When a restaurant and resort opened in Halsaban, the visitor numbers to the farm increased. Entry is free, because its owner simply enjoys seeing people throwing bread to feed his animals.

Maiki’s farm is not a business, but he does sell the surplus animals. The feed he uses on the farm is very traditional, consisting of wheat, corn and barley, helping keep running costs low.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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