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Stealing eggs to save a species

05-20-2011 12:20 PM CET | Tourism, Cars, Traffic

Press release from: Hannover Adventure Zoo

Baby ostrich conquer Zambezi

Baby ostrich conquer Zambezi

New conservation breeding programme at Hannover Adventure Zoo: North African Ostrich

In a move to save the North African Ostrich from extinction, Hannover Adventure Zoo was able, thanks to international assistance, to collect 24 ostrich eggs from the Moroccan Souss Massa National Park and bring them to Germany for breeding – as part of the "Ark Zoo" genetic reserve. 15 chicks have hatched and are currently exploring their new home in Hannover.

The North African Ostrich (or Red-necked Ostrich, Struthio camelus camelus) was still very widespread in its natural habitats in the early 20th century. Then the world of fashion discovered its huge and extraordinary feathers and the ostrich was ruthlessly sacrificed for an extravagant vogue. A handful of animals survived in isolated, inhospitable and inaccessible arid patches in Chad and Niger. The recent turmoil of civil war caused the species to be virtually wiped out even there. The Red-necked Ostrich is now considered to be critically endangered.

Following an urgent appeal to all responsible authorities, Dr. Heiner Engel, Zoological Director in Hannover, was given the go-ahead in 2010 to "steal some eggs" in Morocco. Turning this idea into reality seemed almost doomed to failure, there were just so many obstacles in the way. The 24 eggs had to be carried on a scheduled flight, in disinfected boxes that could not be opened or X-rayed during departure or arrival. Because the sensitive eggs cannot withstand large temperature fluctuations or vibrations, they had to travel in the passenger cabin.

"Compared with the understandable difficulties of transporting 20 litres of an unknown fluid in a passenger aircraft, the actual collection of the eggs in the desert was child’s play," relates Dr. Engel. But although everything happened as planned and the eggs were allowed to be strapped to a seat in the cabin, the hoped for success didn't materialise in 2010: only eight chicks hatched from 24 eggs; all of which died within just a few days.

Early this year, Heiner Engel and his assistant, Maren Frerking, again flew to Morocco. They once again returned to Germany with 24 North African Ostrich eggs in their baggage. But this time they were crowned with success. Eight hens and seven cocks hatched out and have been cavorting behind the scenes at the ostrich kindergarten. They are learning to use their legs and beaks and the difference between "edible" and "inedible" under the loving care and attention of their attendants. The young ratites (flightless birds) have now left the nursery and are exploring their large enclosure at the zoo.

Step by step, our feathered bearers of hope follow a trail of green salad leaves, carefully dropped on the floor, from the pen into the outer enclosure until the first young bird suddenly raises its head. It looks around, eyes full of confusion. After a moment it realises that it is no longer in its normal environment. The world suddenly looks completely different. Everything is colourful, gigantic and smells different. Their initial fear is quickly forgotten – ostriches are blessed with a poor memory. They gradually spread their short wings and off they run: heads down, following their beaks, towards species conservation.

Hopes are growing that this proud ratite, with its long red neck, will again be able to run free in the wild. Four zoos in Germany, England and the USA have registered to accept young animals and breed the Red-necked Ostrich. A cock and two hens, and overall management of the conservation programme, will remain in Hannover.

Adventure Zoo with about 3,400 animals in seven unique theme worlds, numerous animal shows and commented feedings daily, free attractions such as the Zambezi boat ride, Henry’s Underwater World, jungle path, evolution trail, adventure playgrounds, petting meadow as well as regional specialties in every theme world.

Erlebnis-Zoo Hannover
(Hannover Adventure Zoo)
Adenauerallee 3
D-30175 Hannover
Presse: Dr. Simone Hagenmeyer
Tel. (+49) 511 28074117

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