WHEN a bird hatches out of its egg,the first thing it does is look for its mother.And if the mother isn’t there, well, whateverthe bird sees first becomes its mother,and its identity. It’s called imprinting.“He’s sure he’s a chick, just as Godmade green apples,” said Dr. RaymondKray, pointing out one of his young peacocksthat was hatched by a chicken.“Most of these birds will imprint on thefirst thing they see when they can focustheir eyes.”As for Kray, his grandfather gave him apigeon at age five, and although it wasn’tthe first thing he saw when he opened hiseyes, Kray likes to think it was the beginningof his groundbreaking career as anexotic-animal veterinarian.“I guess I imprinted on pigeons,” Kraysaid with a chuckle.Though Kray retired from his full-timeveterinary practice in California and haslived in Costa Rica for the past five years,he still surrounds himself with birds of allkinds at Veterinaria Exótica, the exotic petshop he manages in La Garita, a district ofAlajuela in the Central Valley, northwest ofSan José. His veterinarypractice has nowslowed to a trickle ofinformal consultingprojects.THAT’S not tosay there’s a lack ofwork.In his day, Kraywas consistently nearthe top of his field.His patients over theyears have includedthe bird collections of Steven Spielberg,Liz Taylor and the Shah of Iran, as well asthe koi in the ponds of the PlayboyMansion.In professional circles, Kray is knownfor having created a method for sexing parrotsin 1964, back when avian medicinewas still in its infancy. His method – whichmade use of an endoscope – was used untilrecently, when it was replaced by bloodDNA tests.Also, during extensive travels in LatinAmerica, Kray devised a rice, beans andcorn diet for macaws as a healthier optionthan sunflower seeds. The “Kray R-B-Cdiet” was accepted by breeders and petowners around the world and is still popularto this day, although Kray ruefullyadmits that other entrepreneurs beat him tothe punch when it came to capitalizing onthe idea.Kray’s connection to Costa Rica comesfrom working with a program to revitalizethe wild macaw population in the jungle.The program, Amigos de las Aves, releaseddozens of macaws into the wild duringKray’s 15 years with it. Recently, Krayreceived the news that those macaws havemanaged to reproduce in the wild – a glimmerof success for the program.BIRDS may be Kray’s favorite genus,but work as a wildlife and exotic-animalveterinarian has meant working witheverything from killer whales at Sea Worldof Ohio, to lions and tigers at the WildlifeWayStation, a California refuge for castoffexotic pets.“When I was in my last year of (veterinary)school and someone brought in anexotic animal, the professors turned it overto me,” Kray said,illustrating just howrare his type of expertisewas back when hewas getting started.It’s all very breathless,one of those armlongrésumés pepperedwith stories andpeople and travel, thekind that’s exhaustingjust to read. But Kraytakes it in stride, andhe keeps striding oneven in his retirement.On the business side of things, Kray ismanaging an exotic pet shop in La Garitaand offering consultation services.The pet shop stocks doves, pigeons, parrotsand macaws, in addition to koi, pheasantsand Chinese hamsters. Kray’s shop alsooffers a more or less exclusive line of handmadebirdcages, designed and constructedby an artisan here in Costa Rica.ON the professional side of things,Kray, as always, has a number of projectssimmering away. One is a study of guansand curassows, pheasant-like birds thatlive in the trees and require pristine rainforesthabitats to survive.“Everyone is saving a species. It’s thething to do,” he said. “But no one paid anyattention to these birds.”Kray’s study of these birds is just gettingstarted, as he waits for governmentapproval and licenses to go forward withresearch and breeding.Kray offers to treat, free of charge, anyinjured or ill birds and reptiles that arebrought to him at his shop. He acceptsdonations of medical supplies for this service.The veterinarian is also studyingblood parasites in baby doves, and says he“would appreciate it if people broughtsome in” to help in his study.Kray’s shop is in the Plaza ComercialCerro Escondido. To get there, take thehighway to Jacó and turn left at Plaza LaGarita going towards Turrúcares. Theplaza is one kilometer down, on the right.For information, call 487-4189.