10 04/10/2016

UK first as world’s rarest magpie hatches at Chester Zoo

Four Javan green magpies have hatched at Chester Zoo - the first time the world’s rarest magpie has been bred in a UK zoo - providing a major boost to conservation efforts to save the species from extinction.

Javan green magpie chick
One of four Javan green magpie chicks to have hatched at Chester Zoo is pictured with its parents. The new arrivals have given a vital boost to the global population of the species – which experts now fear is on the brink of extinction in the wild.

Conservationists and bird staff at the zoo are making every effort to try and save the species, which has been trapped to the very brink in its native Indonesian forests.

The zoo has been working with assistance from Taman Safari Indonesia and conservation partners Cikananga Wildlife Centre. In late 2015, six pairs of the birds were flown from Java, Indonesia to Chester in to establish a conservation breeding and insurance population for the species in Europe, before the birds vanish in the wild altogether.

The Javan green magpie is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) but bird experts are warning that the situation may have worsened in recent months amid fears that the magpies may now be close to extinction in the wild – with no recent sightings reported.

But now, the breeding of the four new chicks in Chester has given a huge lift to conservation efforts to save the birds.

Andrew Owen, the zoo’s curator of birds, explains the importance of the breeding successes:

I have had the privilege of working with many rare and beautiful birds, but none are more precious than the Javan green magpie – one of the world’s most endangered species.

We’ve been working with our conservation partners in Java - the Cikananga Wildlife Centre - for more than six years. In that time we’ve seen Javan green magpies disappear almost completely from the wild as they are captured for the illegal bird trade. Huge areas of forests that were once filled with beautiful songbirds, are falling silent.

Knowing that our first pair had nested was a momentous occasion for us - seeing the first chick was even more special. All four chicks have now fledged and are currently sporting blue feathers, which will eventually turn apple green as they mature

So far we have successfully bred from two adult pairs and these four chicks are a vital addition to the worldwide population. Every individual we breed here could help save the species as the clock is ticking and time is running out.

Javan green magpie - Chester Zoo

Mike Jordan, collections director at Chester Zoo, added:

The rapid decline of the Javan green magpie in the wild is due to on-going trapping pressures, agricultural intrusion and a continued loss of suitable forest habitat in west Java in Indonesia.

We started the first ever European conservation breeding programme for the species when six pairs of Javan green magpies arrived in Chester in December last year. Our specialist team, in conjunction with two other top European zoos, are aiming to ensure their continued survival.

Our long-term aim is to return birds bred here in the UK and Europe to the forests of Indonesia.

The arrival of the four chicks brings the total number of Javan green magpies at Chester Zoo to 11, while the Cikananga Conservation Breeding Centre currently has 19 birds, all under the expert care of Chester Zoo staff and local Indonesian experts.

Chester Zoo’s Act for Wildlife conservation campaign has recently launched a new initiative to raise vital funds to build new aviaries at the breeding centre in Java, which are in danger of collapse due to the destructive humidity and termites. To help text BIRD44 £10 to 70070 to donate £10 towards the urgent appeal.

Javan green magpie facts

  • Scientific name: Cissa thalassina
  • The birds are native to western Java in Indonesia and inhabit dense montane forests
  • The bright green plumage is attained through the food the birds eat – insects, frogs and lizards
  • Cikananga Conservation Breeding Centre, which Chester Zoo supports both financially and technically in Java, bred its first Javan green magpie in 2013
  • In 2015, six pairs of Javan green magpies were flown to Chester from Indonesia in a bid to save them from extinction
  • The first chick to be bred in Chester hatched on 13 June and has recently become the first to fully fledge the nest. The other members of the precious trio of chicks remain safely tucked away with their parents, the last of the group hatching on 15 August