Nest, an immersive installation of light and movement celebrating the ritualistic mating dance of the Brolga, is one of the magnificent installations at Barangaroo for Vivid.

It is Ravi Wasan’s second Vivid outing, and an extension of his mission to raise awareness for rare bird species in Australia., created in collaboration with photographer Leila Jeffreys and filmmaker Melvin Montalban.

Creatures great and small have always been a huge part of Mr Wasan’s life. At school, he was known as “the kid with the dog.” Now, he runs Feathered Friends, the largest bird sanctuary in New South Wales, dedicated to the conservation of bird species that are hurtling towards extinction.

One of the species the sanctuary focuses its efforts on are black cockatoos. There are alarmingly few left in Australia, and NSW has one of the lowest populations by state. There are 10,000 left in WA, but from QLD, through the ACT and all the way to NSW, only 164 glossy black cockatoos have been counted.

Mr Wasan feels such a strong affinity with black cockatoos because he appreciates how intricate they are, with a central nervous system that works almost identically to humans.

“We try to share with people our love for the black cockatoo… their empathy, their emotion, their monogamy; black cockatoos mate for life, so if you kill its partner, it’s likely never to mate again,” he said.

“And the saddest thing is that it will feel that desperation of solitude, because we know that black cockatoos have the empathy and the soul of a 4-year-old child.

“They call them dolphins of the sky because dolphins have this beautiful way of communicating to keep them all in sync. Carnaby black cockatoos are the same, and they use song to communicate in this intricate melody. When you remove older birds from the melody, the song’s not the same. The song isn’t the same, so the song is not left to be sung. Birds start to change because their songs start to change, and they stop breeding because they don’t know what to do in a crisis.”

Nest at Vivid Sydney, on the Stargazer Lawn, Barangaroo

In 2022, Mr Wasan was approached by veteran black cockatoo activist Jane Hammond to help work on her social impact documentary, Black Cockatoo Crisis. This documentary is now a critical part of awareness-raising and lobbying for funding to conserve the extraordinary species, and a great entry point for people wanting to learn more about this issue.

Now in his late 30’s, Mr Wasan fondly remembers how his love affair with animals began by him wanting a dog like his life depended on it when he was a kid. But his strict father would not allow it. So, he hatched a plan with his mum. They pretended the family needed to dog-sit for one of his friends who was going overseas, when really, they went out and bought their own German Shepherd puppy behind his dad’s back.

After that, no one ever saw Mr Wasan without his dog, Zeus.

He said, “It became this thing… If I was out at 10 o’clock, the dog was with me. I went out on a Friday night and I’d have to take the dog with me and my friends. This was my life. And the problem was, I liked the dog but society didn’t like the dog because he didn’t fit in. He wasn’t social with people or with other dogs because of his past trauma.”

It was Mr Wasan’s unique relationship with Zeus that inspired him to pursue dog training as a job, though his primary role now is running the Feathered Friends Bird Sanctuary in Cecil Hills along with his coworker, Alex, and their apprentice, Max.

“Feathered Friends just evolved from helping people with keeping pet birds. Now, we do all sorts of things,” he said.

The sanctuary is home to over 200 birds, all sent there for a variety of reasons. Some birds were part of the illegal pet trade, others were injured, and many were victims of trauma.

It is clear that Mr Wasan’s passion is the driving force that keeps the sanctuary running, despite the many barriers that stand in his way. For one, wildlife conservation remains underfunded in Australia.

“There’s no funding for bird conservation in Australia, so creating a sanctuary is the hardest thing to do. We apply for grants, and grants are a beautiful gesture, but it’s hard because society’s values dictate where a grant goes. And it doesn’t take long to see those values,” he said.

Feathered Friends is currently in the process of relocating to Bargo because their current site is beneath the flight path for the new Western Sydney Airport.

At its new site, the sanctuary hopes to expand its range of initiatives that currently includes school programs, monthly conservation experiences, animal training workshops, bird shows, content creation and fundraising, to spread awareness about rare bird species and the importance of native bird conservation.

Those who wish to help support Feathered Friends, book an experience at the sanctuary, or even adopt their own black cockatoo, can visit https://featheredfriends.com.au/

–  Emily Kaine