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2018 is an exciting year for Newquay Zoo as it has welcomed its rarest species to the collection.... pretty impressive right? These were two striking Javan Green Magpies. In this exclusive interview, senior bird keeper Gary Ward answers some very important questions about these unique birds.

So, where have these colourful little birds come from?

Our female bird came to us from Chester Zoo and our male came from Prague Zoo. The female was hatched in 2017, the male was hatched in 2016.

And where did they originally come from?

The species are endemic to Java, which means that they can only be found in the wild there. The species are critically endangered, there’s a very small fragmented population left in the wild with very rapid decline.

Java to Europe is quite a stretch, how did they get here?

The team at Chester Zoo brought 6 pairs to Europe back in 2015. A pair were sent to Jersey Zoo and another pair were sent to Prague Zoo while Chester kept the four remaining pairs.

Does anywhere else in Europe have these? Or are we one of the few lucky conservationists to have them here?

In addition to Chester, Prague and Jersey; Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury received a pair the same time that we did. Although these birds are currently ONLY on show here at Newquay Zoo, in our Gems of the Jungle exhibit, and at Chester Zoo.

So we know they’re really rare and from Java, can you tell us any more about this marvellous species…

Javan green magpies are from the Corvid family, closely related to Crows, which means that they’re very intelligent and inquisitive birds. They have an amazing vocabulary. We’ve had them for over a week now and virtually every day I’ve heard a different call from them. They’re very noisy birds.

Unlike some of our other birds, they don’t eat much fruit only papaya but it has to be really ripe. They mainly eat insects and mice.They eat a lot of crickets, locusts and adult mice, all of which we feed well and make sure they have enough Lutein’s* in their diet for the birds.

Luteins are a type of vitamin; if birds don’t receive enough Luton’s in their diets it can cause their feathers to fade and become discoloured. However, with this species, due to the brightness of their feathers, rather than fading the feathers go from a very bright and vibrant green, to a bright blue colour.

Have any other captive birds had luck breeding so far?

Chester, Prague and Jersey have all successfully bred these beautiful birds. Europe alone currently has 24 birds with 42 birds in captivity in three Indonesian wildlife parks.

That’s great news! So Just how important is it for us to have these birds?

There is thought to be less than 100 Javan green magpies remaining in the wild, and only 66 in captivity, it has never been so important for us to have these birds. Without continued care in captivity, the species could become extinct. The more we can learn about these birds the better our knowledge becomes about preserving the species and making sure they don’t become extinct. These songbirds, among many others, have become wildly sold in the trade market for song competitions and as pets. Culturally these birds can be seen as status symbols within some communities. This excessive need for songbirds for sale in markets means that the populations are depleting at an alarming rate. Currently, Indonesia has one of the highest number of bird species threatened with global extinction.

Do you think there will there be some released back into the wild?

The long-term goal for these birds will be to reintroduce them into them into the wild, but that’s years down the line. First, they’ve got to make sure that the captive safety net of the species is large enough to be viable and then you’ve got to have enough birds to release, have a suitable release site so they’re not just going to get trapped again and that’s the massive challenge in Indonesia, birds are just getting trapped left right and centre. Other species like Bali Starlings are being released and they just get trapped up again and sold in the markets. They’re also working with the black winged starlings to re-release them and that’s problematic because the birds aren’t protected. Black winged starlings can live in a secondary habitat and adapt. Whereas, with the Javan green magpies need pristine green forest, which isn’t so easily protected and managed by local communities because they’re not close to the forest; there’s also not a lot of it left anyway because they’re chopping it down for palm oil.

Finally, what can we do to help the conservation of these rare birds?

Support us and people like us. By visiting our Zoo’s, sponsoring animals and learning what you can about the issues that animals face, you help us to spread the message and help these endangered species. EAZA, which is the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums, have launched a two year Silent Forest campaign which is dedicated to the research and care of these endangered birds, the Javan green magpie is actually the face of the campaign. You can read more about the campaign here: https://www.silentforest.eu/ Here at Newquay Zoo we also have our latest exhibit, Gems of the jungle, which was created to highlight the illegal trade of critically endangered songbirds like these.

So are these the rarest birds you’ve ever seen? With their flamboyant green colouration and impressive singing voices I’m sure they’ll make quite an impact on you! The real aim however is to help conserve this species along with many others to avoid the inevitable outcome that they face in the wild.

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