Smithsonian's National Zoo Receives Prestigious Award

The National Zoo’s kori bustard (Ardeotis kori) team received the prestigious Edward H. Bean Award Sept. 15 from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for its work on the long-term propagation, breeding and management of kori bustards. This award recognizes institutions that contribute to the reproductive success of one or more species and/or subspecies.

“Wildlife conservation requires leadership, collaboration, expertise and patience,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the National Zoo. “Here in the nation’s capital, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is one of the world’s leaders in breeding and caring for kori bustards. I am proud that our dedication to science and public education is making such a significant contribution to the local and international conservation of these birds.”

Kori bustards are large, terrestrial birds native to the eastern and southern regions of Africa. Their numbers have rapidly declined in the wild due to habitat destruction, hunting and slow reproduction rate. Kori bustards eat a variety of food, including insects, lizards, leaves, seeds, flowers and gum, a protein-rich sap that oozes from acacia trees.

Sara Hallager, Zoo biologist and head of the AZA’s Species Survival Plan for kori bustards, leads the Zoo’s kori bustard team, which has been strengthening partnerships and expanding its efforts to conserve the world’s heaviest flying bird.

The Zoo has been breeding kori bustards consistently since 1997 when it became the fourth zoo in the world to hatch them. Since then, it has hatched almost 50 kori bustard chicks—more than any other AZA facility. Nearly all of these offspring were transferred to other facilities in North America, where reproduction has subsequently occurred.
In addition to their work at the Zoo’s Rock Creek and Front Royal campuses, the kori bustard team is actively involved in in situ field work in Africa. It is leading the way in researching the biology and ecology of the kori bustard as populations continue to decline in the wild.

From 2007 to 2009, Hallager and the Zoo’s chief veterinarian, Dr. Suzan Murray, conducted a pilot study of kori bustards at Mpala, Kenya, with funding from the Smithsonian’s Women’s Committee. The success of this pilot study sparked a subsequent study, sponsored by the undersecretary of science. Zoo veterinarian Dr. Katharine Hope, animal keeper Stephen Schulze and Rhea Hanselmann, a postdoctoral research fellow from the Smithsonian Institution and Mpala Research Centre, recently spent time in Kenya studying the health, nutrition and feeding ecology of kori bustards in the wild by capturing and collecting blood samples from them. They also trained Kenyan ornithologists in safe kori bustard capture and sample collection techniques.

The Zoo hopes to forge additional collaborative programs aimed at conserving and protecting kori bustards in the wild.