ASHEBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Those exotic birds at the North Carolina Zoo may not be flying the coop just yet.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s version of a state budget for the next two years, introduced Wednesday, would provide $5 million to rebuild the Aviary Habitat that Zoo officials announced last month it would close.

The zoo had said its aviary, a 40-year-old dome, needed significant repairs and that Zoo management and the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources made the decision to close it.

That means that some 93 birds of 33 species and another 2,000 or so plants would have to be relocated. The exhibit had been closed since Jan. 24 because of the threat of infection with the bird flu, which had been spreading.

The NC Zoo Aviary (Courtesy of the NC Zoo)
The NC Zoo Aviary (Courtesy of the NC Zoo)

“For 40 years, the Zoo’s Aviary offered a special place to connect with nature,” North Carolina Zoo’s Director Pat Simmons said at the time. “The free-flying birds and tropical plants served as an oasis for many people – guests and staff alike. It was a heart-wrenching decision to close the Aviary; however, safety is our highest priority.”

But then Cooper submitted his budget with $5 million for the aviary among 10 line items for the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, The News & Observer reported.

The General Assembly convenes its short legislative session on Wednesday, and lawmakers will draft their own budget in response and then adopt an overall plan that Cooper will review and ultimately must sign or veto.

The Zoo has not commented on this plan or suggested a timeline for replacing the Aviary. It has other projects that could be a factor, such as its new Asia exhibit.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson, File)

“It is truly an immersive habitat, and guests often remarked that they felt as though they were really in a tropical forest. To hear the swoosh of a Victoria Crowned Pigeon as it flies by is magical,” Debbie Zombeck, the Zoo’s curator of birds for 29 years, said in the announcement on the Zoo’s website. “To watch the birds’ natural behaviors as they forage for food, build nests and raise their young made the Aviary a must-see destination in the state.”

Cooper in his budget called for additional raises and bonuses for state workers and teachers in an effort to fill a vacancy rate in state government that State Budget Director Charlie Perusse said was 20%. Typically it has been 10%.

Cooper proposed an additional 2.5% raise for all state workers next year on top of the 2.5% raises already approved in the budget. That would climb to a 5% raise for law enforcement and health care. He said all teachers and assistant principals would see their pay adjusted to ensure they receive an increase of at least 7.5% over the 2-year budget period. 

The governor also is proposing retention bonuses for all state workers, ranging from $1,500 to $3,000.