These tiny bundles of fluff represent hope for a species that hasn’t been seen in the wild in nearly 20 years.
The week-old Edwards’s pheasant chicks look as delicate as candyfloss – you can’t imagine them surviving in the steamy jungles of South East Asia. But Paignton Zoo is working with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria and Viet Nature to reintroduce the species to the forests from which it has been eradicated.
Paignton Zoo Curator of Birds Jo Gregson flew to Vietnam last year to discuss plans that include reintroducing Edwards’s pheasant into the forests of Vietnam. “We’re a way off sending birds to Vietnam. This is all part of a long, slow, careful process to make sure the birds have the very best chance of survival in the wild.
“This year we’ve pulled part of one clutch of Edwards’s pheasants to hand rear. This is the first time staff have hand-reared this species. We want to see if there are any differences in behaviour between hand-reared and parent-reared birds. Hand rearing is more efficient and can give us many more birds, but they must behave as much like the parent-reared birds as possible.”
Meanwhile, out in Vietnam, conservation NGO Viet Nature is building office and accommodation blocks. Aviaries are planned, too, the design informed by what researchers at Paignton Zoo discover – such as the preferred roosting heights of adult birds. Three Vietnamese foresters are heading to Paignton Zoo this summer to be shown research methods and husbandry techniques.
Paignton Zoo is home to nine adult birds, four females and five males. Five chicks have been hatched at the charity zoo previously - four last year and one the year before; this the most productive year so far. Edwards’s pheasant (Lophura edwardsi) is listed as Critically Endangered and recorded as one of the world’s 100 most threatened species. This shy bird with shimmering dark blue feathers has not been seen in the wild since the year 2000. The species has suffered from deforestation, hunting and the use of defoliants during the Vietnam War. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.
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