Release will add to the genetic pool of Oriental Pied Hornbills in the wild; bird unsighted in Singapore for over 140 years prior to 1994.
Singapore, 8 July 2013 – In an effort to diversify the genetic pool of wild hornbills in Singapore, Jurong Bird Park will release three Oriental Pied Hornbills from their collection to Pulau Ubin on 10 July.
“Increasing the genetic pool of Oriental Pied Hornbills or any other bird is important to the conservation of the species because it allows for a healthier population of these birds. With more genetic diversity, the species is less susceptible to diseases,” said Dr Minerva Bongco-Nuqui, Curator, Avian, Jurong Bird Park.
Earlier in March, the Bird Park became the first institution globally to successfully artificially incubate and hatch three Oriental pied hornbill eggs, which had been rescued from Pulau Ubin by officers from the National Parks Board (NParks). These three chicks have been absorbed into the Park’s collection. Retaining these three chicks enables the Park to increase the breeding genetic pool of the existing collection. Similarly, releasing three other birds to Pulau Ubin gives the wild population of Oriental Pied Hornbills greater diversity in the genetic pool.
The Oriental Pied Hornbills selected for release include a bonded pair which are captive bred and a male which was donated to the Park. In preparation for the release and to allow these birds to acclimatise, whole fruit found on the island have been introduced into their diet. These birds were also tested to be free from diseases before the release.
Ahead of the release, the Oriental Pied Hornbills have undergone a physical measurement and health check. Data like the microchip number, sex, age, body length and casque length were recorded and kept for conservation and research purposes. Conservationists can extrapolate from this data as a reference point and make inferences to the general overview of the population, to understand the group’s dynamics, leading to better management of the population.
On 10 July, the bonded pair and one male hornbill will set forth from Jurong Bird Park for Pulau Ubin to be released. They will join an estimated 60 Oriental Pied Hornbills on the offshore island. The release site was chosen as it is the same location from which three Oriental pied hornbill eggs were rescued in January this year.
“NParks has been working closely with Jurong Bird Park and the Singapore Avian Conservation Project team in hornbill conservation since 2004. Due to the concerted efforts of the parties involved, the population of Oriental Pied Hornbills in the wild has increased from a few individuals to about 100 hornbills all over Singapore. In addition to being a part of Singapore’s natural heritage, Oriental Pied Hornbills are also natural dispersers of seeds. As such, the birds reach various areas in Singapore, including remote forested areas in our nature reserves, re-populating the island with plants. This adds to the rich biodiversity of flora and fauna in our City in a Garden. Today, we are very excited with another step in our ex-situ conservation efforts and the release of three Oriental Pied Hornbills,” said Wong Tuan Wah, Director (Conservation), NParks.
The Oriental Pied Hornbill disappeared from Singapore in the mid-1800s, possibly due to hunting and loss of suitable habitats. In 1994, a pair was sighted on Pulau Ubin. Once virtually disappeared from Singapore, the bird is today re-establishing healthy colonies here, thanks to the collective efforts of the NParks, Jurong Bird Park, and Singapore Avian Conservation Project (SACP).
Jurong Bird Park has one of the largest collections of hornbills globally, with 17 species represented. The Park has 17 Oriental Pied Hornbills, some of which can be seen at the Hornbills & Toucans exhibit. During breeding season which takes place from November to March, cameras will be installed in the Oriental Pied Hornbill exhibit, and visitors can catch a glimpse of nesting activities through television screens placed at the exhibit.