Softbill Propagation in U.S. Zoos: A Thirty Year Perspective Part II- The '80's


If one compares the 1974 International Zoo Yearbook breeding records for softbills in U.S.zoos (published in the previous installment of this discussion) with those for 1985 (Table II), accompanying this section, the difference in breeding results for turacos is immediately striking. In 197 4 four species hatched among five collections (Table I, Lindholm, 2005). Not all the institutions specified numbers produced, but at least fourteen were hatched. However, at least six of these died as juveniles. In 1985, 109 turacos, representing twelve species and subspecies, hatched among eighteen U.S. collections. Only 45 were indicated to have died before independence. In a way, this phenomenal difference between these two years is a microcosm of the dramatic improvement in U.S. Zoo softbill propagation that occurred over the time between them.

To appreciate the factors involved in this evolution, an examination of the Houston Zoo's turaco program is revealing. Bob Berry began his fifteen year career as Curator of Birds at Houston in July 1972, one month before the Exotic Newcastle's Disease bird export ban went into effect (Berry, 1981). Thus, one of his immediate concerns was preserving the diversity of a major bird collection in the face of possible unavailability of imported birds. Obviously this meant shifting priorities from maximum impact displays to enhancing reproduction. This was exemplified by his decision to rehouse the collection of turacos.

On his arrival, Bob was startled to find seventeen turacos of five species exhibited in Houston's indoor walk-through aviary (40' wide, 80' long, and 20' high) (Berry, 1979, 1981, & 1983). A single pairofWhitecheeks was single-minded in their persecution of the rest of their relatives, which did result in constant crowd-pleasing activity (Berry, 1981 ). Bob tells me it was only after warning that the zoo's bird collection might someday consist primarily of "Zebra Finches, White Leghorn chickens, domestic pigeons, and canaries", that he received permission to disrupt this entertaining spectacle. Shortly thereafter, the dominant pair of White-cheeks were the sole turacos in this aviary, and in 1973 parent-raised two chicks on exhibit (Berry, 1981 ). (Prior to this, the Houston Zoo had somehow managed to raise four turacos: A Gray Go-Away Bird in 1969 (from parents that were sent on loan to Houston Busch Gardens before 1974), and a Gray Go-Away Bird and a White-cheek in 1970 (Lindholm, 1987a)). Following the cessation of "Turaco Wars", others species in the walk-through were able to breed as well, and by 1982, Fairy Bluebirds and Golden-breasted Starlings had hatched repeatedly (Berry, 1983), while the first Andean Cock of the Rock to be fully reared in captivity hatched there in 1979 (Berry, 1980, Berry et al, 1982).

Meanwhile, pairs of Houston Zoo's other turacos had been distributed up and down a series of aviaries ( 7.5' wide, 15' deep, and 7-10' high) known as the...



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