Zookeepers are celebrating the hatching of four extinct-in-the-wild Socorro doves at ZSL London Zoo - part of a vital collaborative breeding programme formed between 36 zoos worldwide, to keep the species from being lost forever.
The conservation zoo’s latest success has increased the global population of the doves - last seen in the wild in 1972 - to 162, just months after introducing two new ‘love birds’ to each other.
ZSL’s Curator of Birds Gary Ward said: “We welcomed a female, named Esperanza, from Bristol Zoo in May, in the hope that she would get on well with our male, Andrés, in our Blackburn Pavilion tropical birdhouse.
“It’s safe to say that they hit it off, as we discovered two eggs in their nest in June, which successfully hatched on Tuesday 13 July, followed by a second clutch of two laid just weeks later, hatching on Wednesday 18 August - all four chicks are doing really well.”
The new additions have all now fledged the nest and can be seen in the historic Blackburn Pavilion – a tranquil home to multiple threatened bird species, including the Endangered Sumatran laughingthrush and purple-naped lory, and the Critically Endangered blue-crowned laughingthrush.
The first two chicks have been confirmed as male, while keepers are awaiting DNA results to find out the sex of the latest hatchings, as this can only be determined by testing one of their feathers.
The small brown bird was endemic to the island of Socorro, off the coast of Mexico. Having evolved on such an isolated island, the dove was wiped out when invasive species were introduced into the ecosystem - the doves lacked the instinct to escape new predators, including cats, while grazing sheep caused the degradation of their habitat, depleting food supplies.
“They’re no swans to look at, but these fluffy brown chicks are a real boost to the global zoo population of this sadly extinct-in-the-wild bird – it’s successes like these that could ultimately lead to the birds being reintroduced to their native island in the future, once their habitat has been fully restored.
“Reintroducing the species will then serve to rebalance the island’s interconnected ecology, with the doves taking up their former role of seed-dispersal - vital for the endemic flora, also unique to the islands, to thrive.”
International conservation charity ZSL supports a range of global projects aimed at protecting threatened birds, through breeding programmes at ZSL London Zoo and conservation action in the field, including sending expert birdkeepers to hand-rear Mauritius kestrels in the Indian Ocean; providing veterinary expertise for vulture care in India; and supporting the recovery of the hihi (also known as the stitchbird) in New Zealand.