London Zoo’s zookeepers have announced the joyful arrival of the first vulture chick to hatch on their site in over four decades, which they described as “brilliant”. The newly hatched chick, Egbert, is a fluffy grey Ruppell’s griffon vulture, classified as critically endangered. At birth, adorable Egbert weighed as light as a standard bar of soap.
Despite concerns raised by staff due to previous eggs failing to hatch, Egbert was rescued by being placed in an incubator.
To ensure the vulture’s safety, a wooden dummy egg was left for Philomena, Egbert’s mother, to sit on in her nest while the actual egg was incubated at a toasty 36.8°C and monitored closely.
Vulture keeper Robert Harland was on “eggwatch” when the precious new addition to the zoo first hatched after a 40 minute struggle.
He said: “The hatching process can actually take a few days in total. Since hatching, Egbert has gone from strength to strength and is now weighing a healthy 265g.
“We’ve been feeding the little one a meaty protein shake of raw quail, mouse and rat meat which will help the chick put on a hefty seven kilograms over its first three months.”
Egbert will remain in the incubator cuddling up to a dummy owl before returned to his parents Philomena and Cuthbert when he turns three months old.
He continued: “Once the chick has fledged, the zoo vet team will send a feather off for DNA testing to determine the bird’s sex, male or female.”
The baby chick is a crucial part of the European Breeding Programme for the critically endangered species, a collaborative programme between conservation zoos to ensure, “a genetically diverse, healthy back-up population of the species”, the vulture keeper said.
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In recent years, the population of vultures has sharply declined, while the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), an international conservation charity that oversees London Zoo, has collaborated closely with Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) to safeguard vultures in southern Asia.
Mr Harland added: “Egbert’s arrival is a brilliant conservation success, and shows the power of conservation zoos to restore and protect threatened species across the world.”
Ruppell’s griffon vultures are the highest-flying birds globally, having been documented to fly as high as 10,973 metres above sea level.
These vultures were among the first animals at London Zoo when it opened nearly 200 years ago.
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