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A new Papuan Wreathed Hornbill chick – believed to be the only one bred in a European zoo this year – can be seen by visitors to Newquay Zoo for the first time this week.

The chick, hatched on May 17th, has just fledged and been released into the Zoo’s main aviary (alongside the otter enclosure). The new addition to the Zoo is a major milestone in terms of the charity’s conservation breeding programmes as Asian hornbills are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity.

The parent hornbills last produced chicks at Paignton Zoo in 2001 but no eggs were successfully hatched over the next 12 years. The pair was transferred to Newquay Zoo in December last year as it was hoped a change of environment might spur them to breed.

Keeper Gary Ward says: “We were on tenterhooks for a month after the female went into the nesting box. When we first heard the sound of a new born chick we were over the moon as it’s been so long since they produced any offspring.”

“This particular type of hornbill is incredibly difficult to breed in captivity. These birds are very particular about choosing the right mate and they’re extremely sensitive to any environmental changes.”

The parent hornbills adapted well to their new home in Newquay and it’s believed the mild winter may have helped create the right conditions leading to the hatching of the chick. The arrival of a healthy hornbill chick is important because it means invaluable knowledge, gained during the months leading up to and after it was hatched, can be shared globally with conservationists working to protect other vulnerable hornbill species. 

While the Papuan Hornbill is not currently endangered, the expertise gained from breeding them will help to ensure the survival of species such as the Sulu Hornbill and Visayan Wrinkled Hornbill which face possible extinction due to hunting and habitat loss in their native Philippines. Gary hopes visitors to the Zoo will flock to the aviary to see the new baby hornbill but warns: “Don’t expect a tiny, fluffy chick. The hornbill chick is almost as big as its parents already with a very large bill!” 

The sex of the new bird won’t be known for a while. It currently has pale brown feathers around its neck and face as the adult male has – if it turns out to be female, these feathers will start to turn black at around five months.
 

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