San Diego Zoo Safari Park Experts Help Rare Heron

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San Diego Zoo Safari Park Experts Help Rare Heron

San Diego Zoo Safari Park Experts Help Rare Heron

Aug 8, 2011






Two bird experts from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park assisted in the conservation of the critically endangered white-bellied heron early this summer. Working in collaboration with the Royal Society for Protection of Nature, Safari Park Animal Care Manager Don Sterner and Lead Keeper Debbie Marlow went to the Asian country of Bhutan to undertake the first hatching and hand-rearing of this rare bird. Their efforts were successful, with one bird being raised and doing well.


"The Bhutanese are very concerned about the status of this bird and they recognize that some type of human intervention will probably be necessary," said Sterner. "Two eggs were pulled out of a nest but only one was viable. We were able to incubate and hand-rear this one chick, which is now more than 80 days old and close to fledging."


The two Safari Park experts undertook this first ever endeavor under difficult field conditions. With an inconsistent power supply for an egg incubator, it required around-the- clock monitoring. The two employees were chosen due to their extensive experience with other endangered bird species, including the California condor. Preparation for the Bhutan program required developing heron incubation and rearing protocols at the Safari Park last year using the great blue heron, a close relative. The white-bellied heron protocols were fine tuned due to the uniqueness of the species.


The white-bellied heron is a large wetland bird native to Asia. Very little is known about this species and only 26 individuals are thought to remain in Bhutan, with an estimated world population that may number as few as 50. Sterner and Marlow have shared their process with staff in Bhutan, training them to incubate future eggs and hand-rear additional chicks. "We arrived at the field station in early April and left in late June," said Sterner. "At that time the chick was 40 days old and beginning to stand, learning to fly and catching live fish. Our hope is to continue to assist the folks in Bhutan who are dedicated to saving this species."


The 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo Safari Park (historically referred to as Wild Animal Park) is operated by the not-for-profit San Diego Zoo and includes a 900-acre native species reserve. The organization focuses on conservation and research work around the globe, educates millions of individuals a year about wildlife and maintains accredited horticultural, animal, library and photo collections. The Zoo also manages the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. The important conservation and science work of these entities is supported in part by The Foundation of the Zoological Society of San Diego.



Photos: Lead Keeper, Debbie Marlow tending to heron chick

Heron chick being puppet reared

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