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FLORA AND FAUNA
Australian zoo says white rhino birth 'sign of hope'
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) May 21, 2013


Program to repopulate Britain with cranes yields first egg
Slimbridge, England (UPI) May 20, 2013 - Wildlife experts say the first crane egg in southern Britain in more than 400 years has been laid by a nesting bird.

Although hunting and the loss of habitat wiped out the crane population in Britain, the Great Crane Project has been rearing the birds in captivity and reintroducing them to southwestern England since 2010, they said.

The egg, the first laid by cranes released by the project, is under round-the-clock guard in a wetland near Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, the BBC reported Monday.

Video observation of the nesting birds has been set up to collect data as a resource for conservationists and also to protect the nest from egg collectors, project officials said.

"Cranes are an iconic part of British wildlife and one that was all but lost for centuries," Nigel Jarrett of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust said.

The oldest of the cranes released by the project only reached maturity this year.

"There is a long way to go before cranes become widespread again, but it is absolutely momentous to see this egg laid at Slimbridge," Jarrett said.

An Australian zoo said Tuesday the birth of a southern white rhinoceros was a "sign of hope" for the species given the escalation of poaching in Africa.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo said the yet-to-be-named male calf was born to first-time mother Mopani in the safari-style animal park in Dubbo, 400 kilometres (250 miles) west of Sydney, on May 14.

"It seems the first rain we had in Dubbo in a number of months helped bring on the birth of this calf, which was spotted by a staff member on Tuesday morning," senior keeper Pascale Benoit said.

Taronga said every birth was important given unprecedented poaching in Africa, with close to 2,000 rhinos estimated to have been slaughtered since 2006, resulting in population growth slumping to some of the lowest levels in decades.

"He is a sign of hope to all of us to help stop the worst rhino poaching crisis in half a century," Taronga chief executive Cameron Kerr said.

The zoo hopes the delivery heralds a new start for its breeding programme after it last year suffered the devastating loss of four white rhinos from a mysterious illness which caused neurological abnormalities.

The cause of the disease has never been determined.

Mopani contracted the illness while pregnant but survived to give birth to the healthy 45-50 kilogram (99-110 pound) calf.

Zoo general manager Matt Fuller said nine white rhinos had been born at the facility since 2003 but the latest was "incredibly special" given the recent escalation in poaching, driven by demand from Asia for rhino horn.

"We are hearing that in excess of 300 animals have succumbed this year already," he said.

"If that's to continue then very soon, in fact something like 2015 or 2016, we will be seeing a tipping point where the deaths brought on by illegal poaching and hunting outweigh the number of births that are happening in the wild.

"And that really puts rhinos on one clear path, and that is the path towards extinction."

The zoo's rhinos are southern whites, the less endangered of the two white rhinoceros species. There are estimated to be some 20,000 southern whites surviving in the wild, according to environmental group WWF.

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