IN CONSERVATION ON 29TH MAY 2024

Twelve curlew chicks hatch at Fota Wildlife Park as part of partnership with the Breeding Waders EIP

Fota Wildlife Park is thrilled to announce its partnership with the Breeding Waders European Innovation Partnership (EIP) programme, so far twelve Eurasian curlew chicks have hatched at Fota Wildlife Park from 31 viable eggs collected from the wild across various counties in Ireland in collaboration with project partners and Nest Protection Officers, with more chicks expected to hatch in the coming weeks.

Fota Wildlife Park is actively engaged in headstarting conservation initiatives for the native Curlew. Under this EIP programme Nest Protection Officers and project staff intensively survey areas of suitable habitat, once territorial breeding behaviour is established the project personnel undertake long hours in the field in an attempt to locate nests. The project has used both traditional nest finding techniques as well as innovative methods such as the use of thermal imagery drones. These drone flights have been undertaken under licence from the National Parks and Wildlife Service by project partners, the Hen Harrier Programme. Once located, the eggs are collected from the wild, they are sent to Fota Wildlife Park for incubation and rearing of the chicks to fledglings. When capable of flying, the birds will be released back into their native habitats, providing them with protection against predators and other threats during the vulnerable early stages of life. Curlews can live up to a maximum of 32 years.

Fota Wildlife Park has successfully implemented headstarting programmes for other endangered native species, such as the Natterjack toad. To date, over 9,000 toadlets reared at Fota Wildlife Park have been released back to Kerry. The incubation and rearing of critically endangered species for the headstarter programmes occurs in specially designed facilities and designated areas within Fota Wildlife Park, which are not accessible or visible to the public.

Declan O’Donovan, Animal Care Manager at Fota Wildlife Park said “The curlew, once a common sight in Ireland’s bogs and wetlands, is now critically endangered, having experienced a staggering 98% decline since the 1970s. This alarming trend places the breeding curlew on the brink of extinction. At Fota Wildlife Park, we are deeply committed to this conservation project, as protecting native species is a priority.

Under licence from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and in collaboration with the Breeding Wader EIP partners, we receive notifications of nest discoveries, and that Nest Protection Officers will be removing eggs from the nest.  Our Animal Care team promptly collects and transports the eggs in special incubators to our facility at Fota Wildlife Park. While we focus on incubating and rearing the chicks, other EIP partners construct release pens to allow the young birds to reintegrate into their habitats as soon as they can safely fly.”

The €25 million Breeding Waders EIP is funded jointly by the National Parks and Wildlife Service at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, under the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Agri Programme. EIP projects, focusing on species such as the Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Snipe, Oystercatcher,  Ringed Plover,  Common Sandpiper,  Red-Necked Phalarope, are locally led schemes which are designed and implemented by collaborative groups involving farmers, scientists, ecologists, and other experts. Populations of breeding waders have declined by as much as 98% in recent decades in the Irish countryside.

The EIP project aims to secure existing wader populations at key sites, and to support population recovery through wider landscape management and policy development. Earlier this year, a consortium led by Irish Rural Link was selected as the Operational Group lead to deliver the Breeding Waders EIP.

Owen Murphy, Project Manager for the Breeding Waders EIP states, ‘the project is delighted to be working collaboratively with our Project Partners in Fota Wildlife Park. Their dedication and skill in the areas of aviculture and chick rearing is world-class and we feel like these eggs and chicks are getting the best possible start in life. It is worth noting that the project will only take first clutch eggs from the wild for headstarting and our Nest Protection Officers and Wader Project Officers maintain their vigilance in the field in order to offer the best protection possible to the second clutches, which are incubated and reared in the wild by the parent birds. This project is an exciting venture, we look forward to working closely with all our project partners, landowners, farmers and others to try and pull our native Breeding Wader species back from the brink of national extinction.’

Fota Wildlife Park also revealed the names of the recently born primates. The five Ring-tailed Lemur babies have been named Bosoa, with the twins named Malbec and Shiraz, and the remaining two named Kirby and Winston. Merlot, a four-year-old lemur who joined Fota Wildlife Park from Parc Zoo du Reynou, France, in 2022, is the father of the baby Ring-tailed Lemurs.

The young agile gibbon, born on January 10th to parents Chloe and Conor, has been named Murphy. Meanwhile, the Black and White Colobus monkey, born on January 8th to mother Kimani and father Tom, has been named Cillian.

Ring-tailed lemurs are currently classified as endangered with recent reports suggesting that there has been a 95% reduction in the wild population of Ring-tailed lemurs since 1990, with 3000 Ring-tailed lemurs remaining in the wild.

Over the past five decades, the endangered Agile gibbon’s native environments have shrunk by half, and they face additional threats from hunters who exploit them for the illicit exotic pet market.

Although listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, the Black and white colobus is popular for its unique pelt and coat and has been hunted for centuries because of this. It is also threatened by agricultural developments and timber production within its native African habitats.

For more information on Fota Wildlife Park which is open daily from 9.30am, see www.fotawildlife.ie