Trip reports

Indoor Meeting - Saving the spoon-billed sandpiper

Friday, 10 May 2013

This talk was given by Dr Baz Hughes, head of the species conservation department at WWT. He is also involved in the crane reintroduction project and protecting the Madagascan pochard. Saving the spoon-billed sandpiper is probably the biggest challenge. It is an international collaborative project with the RSPB helping to finance it in a big way.

The species is a unique wader in that the young are born with spoon shaped bills. They are critically endangered with less than 100 pairs. The birds are a long distance migrant, breeding in Arctic Russia and spending the winter in China, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh. The reason for their decline is in part down to intertidal habitat loss and degradation in China, Japan and Korea. Efforts to protect these habitats are now taking place. Hunting and trapping of the birds also takes place in Russia, China, Vietnam, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The hunters are doing it for their own survival so alternative source of income are being provided for them such as fishing or farming.

To buy time for the species, conservation breeding is taking place. 2011 saw an expedition to Russia to gather eggs. This is a challenge due to the remoteness of the area, lack of electricity supplies and chances of running into a bear. The eggs were hatched out in incubators in Russia. The tiny chicks need moving food (mosquitoes) to stimulate feeding. Staff apparently took their clothes off to attract the mosquitoes then used a vacuum cleaner to gather them up. The chicks were eventually flown to Slimbrige.

2012 saw another expedition to Russia, this time they gambled on flying eggs back to Slimbridge, luckily this was successful. There are now 28 birds in captivity at Slimbridge. With breeding aviaries nearing completion they are hoping they will breed in 2013.

Another technique for helping the species is known as head starting. This involves hatching the eggs in an incubator then releasing the fledglings back into the wild. This means that more young will survive.

Huw Moody-Jones