Prague Zoo raising endangered bird with puppets

The short-tailed Javan green magpie is one of the world’s rarest

Prague is known for its puppets, and many people who live here get a bit jaded at seeing them all the time. But the puppets are doing some good. Prague Zoo is using a hand puppet to help save the short-tailed Javan green magpie, one of the rarest and most critically endangered birds in the world.

The brightly colored bird is a member of the Corvus family, which includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers.

"In the Corvus birds, including magpies, there is so-called imprinting. Artificial breeding would imprint a person’s traits on a juvenile bird and it would be lost for the next breeding,” Prague Zoo bird breeder Antonín Vaidl said in a press release. "When using a puppet to imitate an adult bird, there is no such impression [of a person], and it can be bred with the right habits.”

The hand puppet does not have to be a faithful copy of an adult magpie, but it must have the key signs the youngsters react to such as a distinct red beak and black eyes on a bright green background.

The Javan green magpie was hatched in an incubator last month and is being kept in a special box. The magpies that laid the egg had already thrown one egg out of their nest, so zookeepers decided to take the other and hatch it artificially, as each birth helps to protect the species.

The numbers of Javan green magpies, considered the most beautiful member of the crow family, are dramatically declining. According to recent estimates, fewer than 50 individuals live in the wild, and roughly the same number are in human care.

“For this reason, it also belongs to the four flagship species of the Silent Forest campaign targeting vulnerable Southeast Asian species,” Prague Zoo director Miroslav Bobek said. “The Prague Zoo plays an important role in their protection not only because of its success in breeding them and similar birds, but also thanks to organizational work and support for conservation projects in Asia."

There are about 30 of the rare magpies in Europe, including five pairs in a zoo in Chester, UK, and one pair on the island of Jersey.

The Javan green magpie is native to forests on the Indonesian island of Java. In the wild, they naturally dye themselves bright green by eating green insects that contain a yellow pigment called lutein. When they're kept in cages, their color can change from green to bright blue due to lack of the insects.

Prague Zoo had a good year in 2017. Attendance in 2017 was the second-highest ever. Some 1,445,126 visited. There was also the birth of 1,261 youngsters of 219 species of mammals, birds and reptiles.

In April 2017 the zoo welcomed its 60 millionth visitor since it opened on Sept. 28, 1931.

Prague Zoo last year was named the fifth best zoo in the world by travel website TripAdvisor. The ranking is based on visitor reviews. The zoo took fourth place in 2015 and seventh place in 2014; no ranking was published in 2016.

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