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Will Wrocław save one of the rarest birds in the world?

2019-09-06
Will Wrocław save one of the rarest birds in the world?

Sensation at the Wroclaw zoo

Three years ago, a breakthrough in the conservation breeding of Palawan hornbills took place at the Wrocław zoo, when the first chick hatched. This year another chick has hatched; it is the fifth hornbill born here. Wroclaw's hornbills now constitute almost 90% of the world's population living in the zoos. This is a huge breeding success!

Palawan hornbills are one of the least known bird species and one of the most endangered. It is believed that they have no chance of surviving the next 10 years in the wild. That is why seven years ago the conservative breeding program in zoos began. It has proved challenging  to learn the biology of these birds thoroughly to ensure adequate living conditions.

The breeding couple came to the Wrocław zoo in 2012 as young two-year-old birds. Female Sofia and male Avilon needed 5 years before they had their first offspring. It was the first documented hatching of Palawan hornbills in zoos. Last year, we had three chicks hatched, and on May 7 this year, another chick hatched. For now, the centers in which this species is also bred remain unsuccessful - the zoo in Athens and Pilsen.

- When the male of the Palawan hornbill helps the female to wall up in the spring, we hold our breath. These are extremely exciting events for us, because each time they positively affect the survival of the species. We feel not only joy, but also responsibility. - emphasizes Krzysztof Kałużny, a bird keeper from the Wrocław zoo.

If this success can be repeated in other zoological gardens, then the species has a better chance of survival. The Wrocław zoo also plays an important role in other endangered species conservative breeding programs, such as bear cuscus or Philippine mouse-deer.

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The hornbill family consists of over 50 species, among which there are variations in size, coloration, lifestyle or diet. The distinguishing feature of all birds belonging to this family is a long, often curved beak with a horn-like growth on its upper part. This "helmet" is very light because it is made of spongy tissue with a high content of keratin. Also worth mentioning are long eyelashes, a rare feature among birds.

Hornbills have a rather unusual mating ritual. Well, the male walls up the female in a hollow for the breeding season. He leaves only a small hole through which he feeds his partner. The female leaves the hollow with a raised chick. The chick is by then the same size as his parents.

- How do we manage to repeat this success every year? For the first few years we watched the birds and verified what we already knew. We managed to develop a diet that suits them. We also figured out what the male likes to use for his mortar, which is extremely important for reproduction. The secret recipe turned out to be a mixture of excrement and digested fruit”says Kałużny.

Anthracoceros marchei, known as the Palawan hornbill is called Talusia in its homeland. It is a forest bird growing up to about 70 cm and reaching a body weight of 700 g. The color of the feathers is black except for the tail, which is white. It has a white border around the eyes, and a white spot under its beak. The most characteristic features though, are the bright yellow beak and the "helmet".

It is a species found only on the Philippine island of Palawan and five surrounding satellite islands - Balabac, Busuanga, Calauit, Culion and Coron. Is also a species less and less common in nature; scientists have calculated that its population has fallen by at least 20% in the last ten years. The main reason is the destruction of habitats by deforestation and defragmentation, for the development of agriculture and road construction, as well as poaching and illegal trade. Unfortunately, listing Palawan as a reserve on the UNESCO World Heritage List, did not stop the loss of its biodiversity.

In the Red Book of Endangered Species, Palawan hornbills were identified as being vulnerable to extinction – VU.

The Palawan hornbills in Wrocław live in the Bird House with internal and external aviaries. Due to the renovation of the pavilion, they can currently only be seen from the outside. Additionally, in the zoo you can meet other birds from this family: the wrinkled hornbill (Aceros corrugatus), the black hornbill (Anthracoceros malayanus), the southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) and the African grey hornbill (Tockus nasutus).

 

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