Crows at a French theme park have been put to work, picking up trash. Six rooks, which are members of the crow family, along with carrion crows, jackdaws and ravens, have been trained to collect cigarette butts and litter at Puy du Fou park.
“The goal is not just to clear up, because the visitors are generally careful to keep things clean” but also to show that “nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment”, said Nicolas de Villiers, president of the park, which is in the western Vendee region.
Puy du Fou, a historical theme park in Les Epesses, draws more than 2 million visitors each year, which makes it the second most popular theme park in France after Disneyland Paris. The park features numerous shows, ranging from Vikings to musketeers to flamenco dancing, each set in a different historical context.
Puy du Fou was established in 1977 when Philippe de Villiers, a twenty-seven-year-old student, found the ruins of an old Renaissance castle in the village of Les Epesses near Cholet. He developed a show about the Maupillier family that spanned from the fourteenth century until World War II. Since then the shows have become increasingly dazzling, incorporating horseback riding and sword fighting demonstrations.
The rooks, the latest addition to the park’s fauna, which also includes birds of prey that participate in different spectacles, are thought to be “particularly intelligent.” Oftentimes, they “like to communicate with humans and establish a relationship through play”, Villiers said. The birds have been taught to keep the park clean with a small box that rewards the rooks with food each time they deposit trash.
The box, also known as a "crow vending machine" was invented in 2008 by Josh Klein, who found that crows could be trained to collect objects.
According to Klein, "The device consists of a box from which protrudes a perch, a food tray, and a funnel. The whole thing is made out of sealed wood so as to minimize noisy clanging which might result from using metal components while retaining the ability to leave the thing out in the rain. It is run by a laptop which provides power and control up to 50 feet away."