Nearly extinct Javan green magpies thrive at Prague zoo

Using a puppet resembling an adult bird to feed a newborn in captivity prevents the chick from “imprinting” on a human. (AFP Relaxnews pic)

PRAGUE: Prague zoo said Tuesday that its small flock of critically endangered Javan green magpies was growing, thanks in part to a special new feeding technique using a puppet.

The zoo currently has six Javan green magpies, including two chicks, one of which is being fed with the help of tweezers and a puppet resembling the adult of the striking species, known for its blue-green feathers and orange-red beak.

“We found one broken egg under a nesting pair so we immediately took the other one away,” bird curator Antonin Vaidl told AFP, adding that the chick was hatched in an incubator in March.

“Then we started using this puppet so that the chick would not be imprinted on a human and could reproduce within its species,” Vaidl told AFP, referring to the process by which a bird learns to recognise its species.

Javan green magpies are among the “rarest bird species on the planet today,” Vaidl said, adding that the total global population in captivity and the wild is around 100.

“Pessimistic estimates indicate that there are fewer than 50 birds in Indonesia, its country of origin,” he added.

A 2016 study by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC warned that 13 species of Indonesian birds, including the Javan green magpie and the country’s symbolic Javan hawk-eagle, were at serious risk of extinction mainly due to the pet trade.

Prague zoo got its first pair of Javan green magpies in 2015 from the Chester zoo in northwestern England near Liverpool.

The pair was the first to successfully breed in captivity in Europe, producing three offspring in April 2016.

“It was the first-ever evidence that Javan green magpies can have more than two offspring at a go. People always believed two was the maximum,” Vaidl said.

He said that so far the zoo had successfully hatched a total of five chicks.