Birds living in natural habits can help inform captive care

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hornbill conservation
Photo: Craig Ansibin – 123rf

Bird species that live in their natural habitats can help zoos learn how to manage those in captivity, according to a new review from the UK.

Birds are the most diverse group housed by zoos around the world, but zoo-based research tends not to focus on birds.

An article published in Birds, by Dr Paul Rose of the University of Exeter, suggests zoos can improve management of birds by looking at how species live in their natural habitats.

Likewise, birds living under the care of humans can also help guide and develop conservation action for those living in the wild.

In the review, Dr Rose uses hornbills as an example, a species of bird that is essential to the long viability and sustainability of biodiversity in the rainforest.

The helmeted hornbill, a critically endangered species, plays an important role in the dispersal of seeds within pristine, undistributed areas of south-east Asian rainforests.

The population decline of the helmeted hornbill has been caused by poaching of the birds for their ‘ivory’, the large casque on the bird’s head and bill that can be up to 10 per cent of its overall body mass.

While the helmeted hornbill is not found in captivity, other species of large hornbill are.

By looking at the ecological role of the helmeted hornbill in its natural habitat, zoos have been able to design enclosures that will increase chances of reproduction.

For example, by identifying the temperature and humidity range of hornbill nesting sites in the wild which are more likely to hatch eggs, zoos have been able to use this data to enable them to match these environmental conditions as closely as possible.

Zoos have also been able to guide conservation action for hornbills living in the wild by monitoring the behaviour of these birds and discovering that using nest boxes enhances the quality of habitats for hornbills to breed in, which has led to these boxes being built in areas of the helmeted hornbill’s range in Borneo.

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