San Diego, California - A one-month-old Dalmatian pelican is thriving under human care at the San Diego Zoo. The young bird weighs about 12 pounds and is beginning to grow feathers over its downy fluff. The youngster was brought to the Zoo to be hand-reared after the chick’s father passed away at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Animal care staff at the Zoo’s off-exhibit Avian Propagation Center will hand raise the birds for approximately 50 to 60 days, until they are strong enough to return to their flock at the Safari Park.
"He started off a little bit slow and didn’t have very good weight gain for the first 10 days," said Beau Parks, senior bird keeper at the San Diego Zoo. "But since then he is doing very well and we have to monitor how much he eats so he does not grow too fast."
The youngster is one of two pelican chicks being hand-reared at the Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center. In the wild, only one nestling is reared by the parents at a time and sibling competition and aggression have been documented. To ensure the well being of both chicks, the youngsters are being raised separately by animal care staff.
The Dalmatian pelican chicks are part of the first North American breeding program for this vulnerable species. Since the breeding program was started in 2006, 34 chicks have been hatched. Because of the success, the Safari Park has sent some of the birds to the Phoenix Zoo, where a second breeding colony is being established.
Dalmatian pelicans are one of the rarest pelican species in the world and the largest of the pelican species. When they fledge at approximately six to seven months, the birds could measure five to six feet in length and have a wingspan of nine to 11 feet. Dalmatian pelicans live and nest in freshwater wetlands and rivers throughout Europe and Asia, but have gone extinct in some of their native regions. The loss of numbers is due to damage of the delicate wetland habitats that the birds rely on for breeding and raising chicks.
Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.