Conservationists at Living Coasts are heartbroken by the death of a rare bird.
The female bank cormorant – named Mpumi – was found dead early on Saturday (September 25) morning by keeping staff.
She was one of three bank cormorants at Living Coasts, the only birds of their species in a zoo anywhere in the world. They are part of international efforts to save this endangered species which are being led by Torquay’s coastal zoo.
Ghislaine Sayers, head of veterinary services at Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts, told the Devon Week: “The post-mortem examination proved inconclusive, which is not unusual. There were no wounds and no sign of disease. We have sent tissue samples off to the labs but it will be about a month before we get any results.”
Living Coasts director Elaine Hayes said: “This is truly heartbreaking. The keeping staff – and the rest of the team – are devastated. It is a huge set-back for our flagship conservation programme – but that’s conservation for you. We have good days and we have bad days. It’s two steps forward and one step back.
“The saddest thing is that Mpumi was just ready to mix with the males, so we were finally reaching the crucial next stage on the road to breeding our own birds here. This is a terrible loss. She is the first bird I have cried over.
“We have put two and a half years of effort and commitment into this project. The planning, the preparations, the paperwork, the traveling to South Africa, the special permission needed to collect the eggs, the time and expertise the keepers put into hatching the eggs and rearing Mpumi.
“We have learnt a lot from this. We aim to go back next year, collect more eggs and start again. When you are talking about extinction, you can’t admit defeat. If conservationists gave up after the death of one bird then no one would ever save anything. We have invested thousands of pounds in this work and we will carry on. Living Coasts is a fantastic place with fantastic people – we will bounce back.”
In July 2009 Living Coasts was granted special permission by government agencies to collect bank cormorant eggs from the wild. Ten eggs were collected from nests on Robben Island, off the South African coast near Cape Town, and brought to the UK.
The first success of the conservation programme was when a chick – later named Mpumi – was hatched on July 17 2009. Mpumi and the coastal zoo’s two males – Mnandi and Amanzi – are the only bank cormorants in any zoo anywhere in the world.
The bank cormorant is an endangered species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. No one knows how long bank cormorants live in the wild or in zoos. Cormorants in general can live between four and 20 years. Both the males at Living Coasts were hatched in 2004. It is thought that bank cormorants reach sexual maturity at the age of three.
For more information go to the Living Coasts site or ring 01803 202470.
(from a press release)