It lost its mother before it even hatched. Its egg was incubated by a bird of a different species. And now, humans have taken over in an effort to make sure it grows up with a clear understanding of what species it is. The blue crane chick that hatched on July 27, 2012, already has quite a story — and it’s barely two weeks old.
A pair of blue cranes at Zoo Atlanta had been ranked by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Stanley Crane Species Survival Plan as one of North America’s most genetically valuable pairs, so animal care professionals were delighted when the female laid an egg in late June. But when the female tragically died just 48 hours after laying the egg, members of the Bird Department had to act quickly to find an alternate solution.
That solution was Gigi the peahen, who sat on the egg until its roughly 30-day incubation period was almost complete. Two days before hatching, the egg was removed to the care of bird care professionals in an off-exhibit center.
The Bird Department has cared for the chick using puppet-rearing, a technique often used to encourage species-appropriate behaviors in young chicks and to limit social imprinting on humans.
Caregivers used hand puppets that resembled the head of a blue crane to teach the chick to feed. Later, staff wore costumes when feeding or interacting with the chick so that its experience was as close as possible to that of a parent-reared youngster. The chick is being reared alongside its 30-year-old father, whose presence and behavior will help to support his offspring’s understanding that it is, in fact, a blue crane. The best view of the chick is currently from the Zoo train, which passes alongside its yard.
“We’re delighted about our blue crane chick. Not only is it the offspring of a pair that was very important to the SSP, but it’s a posthumous contribution from a bird that was very special to our Bird Department,” said Lori Perkins, vice president of collections. “The chick’s unusual story is one of many such stories that illustrate the lengths our animal care professionals will go to in their commitment to their jobs.”
Blue cranes, also known as Stanley cranes, are the national bird species of their native South Africa. Although it is now illegal to hunt blue cranes, wild populations have declined dramatically in recent years, largely as a result of extermination by farmers, who view the birds as crop pests.
The blue crane chick isn’t the only late-summer new arrival at Zoo Atlanta; it also has some tiny primate neighbors. Robin the golden lion tamarin gave birth to two infants on July 10. As is typical for their species, the infants’ father, Theo, has taken over responsibility as his babies’ primary caregiver – a duty he is known to take very seriously — and as of last week, the new arrivals can be seen beginning to venture off their parents’ backs. The babies and their family are on exhibit daily in the golden lion tamarin habitat.
— Keisha N. Hines, Zoo Atlanta