On June 15, history was made at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Bird House when its 50th kori bustard chick (Ardeotis kori) emerged from its shell. The Zoo has bred kori bustards consistently since 1997, when it became the fourth zoo in the world to hatch them. Many offspring have subsequently bred at other North American zoos.
“While each hatching is special and rewarding, this chick is a little more special than the others,” said Sara Hallager, Zoo biologist and head of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for kori bustards. The SSP matches animals across the country to ensure genetic diversity in the population. “We've reached an important milestone, and I’m thrilled that the National Zoo continues to play a significant role in ensuring this species’ survival in zoos and in the wild.”
In addition to the propagation, breeding and management that take place at the National Zoo, the kori bustard team, led by Hallager, is actively involved in in situ assessments of the species. In 2009, Zoo staff conducted a study of the health, nutrition, and feeding ecology of wild kori bustards in Kenya by capturing birds and collecting blood samples. They also trained Kenyan ornithologists in capture-and-sample-collection techniques.
Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists kori bustards as a species of least concern, conservationists believe that populations are declining in their native habitat in eastern and southern Africa due to habitat destruction, illegal hunting and their inherent slow reproduction rate. Weighing in at 40 pounds, male kori bustards are the world’s heaviest flying birds.
Bird House staff are hand-rearing the 50th kori chick, just as they did with its predecessors. This increases the likelihood that the chick will breed successfully once it reaches sexual maturity. Hand-rearing has another benefit; several wild birds of prey reside on Zoo grounds, and raising the chicks in human care eliminates the chance of conflict. Although the chick will not be on exhibit until mid-August, Zoo visitors can see its parents at the kori bustard exhibit, located outside of the Bird House.