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Endangered heron is hatched

ZOOLOGISTS in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region have helped hatch an endangered and very rare bird known as a white-eared night heron, but an expert says there is no viable plan to return the species to the wild at the moment.

Zhou Fang, a professor at the Animal Science College of Guangxi University and an expert on white-eared night herons, says the hatching of the chick at Nanning Zoo is a constructive step toward the artificial propagation and conservation of the endangered bird species, but it is too early to call it a success.

"A success means that this newly hatched chick and more artificially hatched birds of the same species could continue to reproduce and rebuild the species," said Zhou.

"We still have a long, long way to go before a viable plan to release the rare bird species into nature can be drafted."

The young white-eared night heron weighed 27 grams when born in Nanning Zoo on May 3 and has since gained 15 grams in weight, according to Que Tengcheng, an ornithologist who is in charge of monitoring the growth of the young bird at the zoo.

The pink chick has no feathers and is barely able to walk. It is fed small fish every two hours and has been doing fine, said Que.

It was hatched in an incubator. Its parents - a pair of adult night herons - were sent by local residents to Nanning Zoo in 2003. The female didn't lay eggs until last April when it laid two in a tree, but later broke them accidentally.

Two more eggs were laid on April 4 this year in a nest built by zookeepers, but they were abandoned two days later. Zookeepers moved the eggs to an incubator.

Only one young night heron was hatched 26 days later, said Que.

"The chick will be able to walk in 20 days or so," said Que.

Nanning Zoo is the only animal-breeding base in China where the endangered night heron species is kept in captivity.

Night herons are largely unique to south China, though sightings of the species have also been reported in Vietnam in recent years, said Zhou.

The bird was first recorded in Wuzhi Mountain in Hainan Province in 1899. No further sightings were recorded until the 1920s, when the bird was seen in mountainous areas in Zhejiang, Fujian and Hainan provinces.

The bird, which has a white stripe beside each eye, likes to live in gullies, river valleys, or other areas close to water. It preys on fish, shrimp, small snails and insects.

Night herons breed from March to May, and females normally produce two to four eggs a year. Night herons are listed as one of the 30 most endangered kinds of birds in the world.

The number of the night herons living in the wild is fewer than 1,000, said Zhou.


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