The Animal Facts Editorial Team
March 31, 2023 10:45 am
London Zoo, London, The United Kingdom
Zookeepers at ZSL London Zoo are helping to care for the first Ruppell's Griffon Vulture chick hatched at the zoo in over 40 years. With a dramatic start to life keepers have been working to ensure the survival of the chick after its first-time parents were unable to provide adequate care.
Staff at London's conservation zoo were excited to discover the egg laid by mother Philomena in mid-January. Unfortunately her inexperience as a mother had led to her leaving her previous eggs for long periods of time leading to them being unable to survive.
To ensure it could survive keepers stepped in and moved the egg, which they nicknamed Egbert, to an incubator. Inside the incubator the chick was kept at a toasty 36.8°C. To ensure Philomena could still practice her mothering skills she was provided with a wooden dummy egg which she patiently sat on.
“The hatching process can actually take a few days in total,” explained vulture keeper Robert Harland, who was on ‘eggwatch’ when the little one first broke through its shell. “As soon as the first break in the shell is made, the egg’s membrane starts to dry out, which can restrict its movement and prevent it from surviving the hatch – we saw this happening and knew we had to step in to help.”
Colleagues at the Horstman Trust stepped in to guide staff at ZSL London Zoo on how to free the chick from the egg, a process which took almost 40 minutes.
After hatching on March 8 keepers have been providing Egbert with round the clock care. Each day he requires 4 feeds, this will continue for 3 months when it will be strong enough to return to the care of parents Philomena and Cuthbert.
“Since hatch, Egbert has gone from strength to strength and is now weighing a healthy 265g,” added Rob. “We’ve been feeding the little one a meaty protein shake of raw quail, mouse and rat meat which will help the chick put a hefty 7kg over its first 3 months.
“Once the chick has fledged, the zoo vet team will send a feather off for DNA testing to determine the bird’s sex - male or female, the youngster is an important part of the European Breeding Programme for the Critically Endangered species, a collaborative programme between conservation zoos to ensure a genetically diverse, healthy back-up population of this important species.”
ZSL London Zoo have a long history with the vulture. They were one of the first animals housed at the world's first scientific zoo almost 200 years ago. Unfortunately from 2004 to 2015 this species dropped from least concern to critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List.
In 2006 a team from ZSL flew to Nepal where they discovered that diclofenac - an anti-inflammatory used widely on cattle but lethal to the vultures who fed on their carcasses, was causing a spate of vulture deaths.
Robert added: “The ban of diclofenac and introduction of alternative anti-inflammatory meloxicam across Asia’s veterinary sector has since set the population of Asian vultures back on the right track – showing that nature can recover when species are protected.
“Egbert’s arrival is a brilliant conservation success, and shows the power of conservation zoos to restore and protect threatened species across the world.”
Image: © ZSL London Zoo
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