Rehabilitated Little Egrets from Tai Po Market Egretry Return to Nature

Post Date:  Thursday 29 June 2017
Category:  Nature Conservation

(HONG KONG, 29th June 2017) Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) releases 3 Little Egrets rescued from the Tai Po Market Egretry into the wild in Yuen Chau Tsai, Taipo today. Two of them were received after the tree pruning incident on 6th June 2017 and suffered from air sac rupture. They are now fully recovered and they are released back to the wild with an older companion.

As a result of the serious damage to the protected Tai Po Market Egretry during tree pruning works undertaken by Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) on 6th June 2017, the Wild Animal Rescue Centre of KFBG has received a total of 29 birds for rescue and rehabilitation. The species received has included Chinese Pond Heron, Black-capped Night Heron, Little Egret and Great Egret. Among the birds, 21 have died, and 8 remain alive. The birds were presented with a wide range of conditions including broken bones, dehydration, feather damage and tissue bruising. Some of them were suffering from hunger as a result of being separated from their caring parents.

The KFBG’s rescue team provided intensive care for the injured and sick birds. All birds received fluid therapy to counteract dehydration which they were suffering. On arrival at the KFBG Wild Animal Rescue Centre the birds went through triage where the condition of each individual was identified and a treatment plan was developed. Those that had no significant injuries continued with fluid therapy for a few days and then they were hand fed until they were able to self-feed. Cases with injuries received a course of antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and pain killers as needed. Where an x-ray revealed bone damage the wing or limb was stabilized.  During these treatments the birds were maintained in a temperature-controlled environment to simulate the warmth they would have received from their parents.

Several factors are considered before the birds are regarded as ready for release. The birds must be capable of strong flight, and be able to recognize and feed on appropriate food items without human assistance. They must show characteristic (normal) behaviour for the species and must not show an attachment to their human care givers. To judge these items, the experienced KFBG’s rescue team places the birds in a free flight aviary with natural structures and food and the team observes their behaviour and makes a careful assessment. It is better for the birds if they can be released to live out a normal life in the wild.

Experts at KFBG decided to release the birds at Yuen Chau Tsai but not Tai Po Market Egretry, the nesting site, because it is more important that the egrets are released at a rich foraging (feeding) area which is already used by other egrets. They will be able to join feeding birds, learn from them and then follow other egrets to a roosting site which may well be the same location (Tai Po Market Egretry). Yuen Chau Tsai has adequate trees with shade and shoreline rocks which the birds can rest on making it a suitable release choice. Releasing at the Tai Po Market Egretry has the added risk of being close to the road and buildings which could present hazards for the young egrets’ survival.

After the LCSD staff illegally cut the trees and killed and injured the birds at the Tai Po Market Egretry, KFBG worked closely with Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other organisations to rescue injured birds. During the period between 6th and 15th June, KFBG staff conducted regular checks at the affected area and assisted AFCD to collect and transfer injured birds in a timely manner to the KFBG’s Wild Animal Rescue Centre.

It is very important that a similar event does not happen again so KFBG urges that the present procedures for such roadside pruning are reviewed to make sure that there is a mechanism that includes adequate supervision from LCSD management to make sure wildlife is not harmed by the tree pruning and related activities. Following standard practice related to similar situations in other countries the authorities should consider covering the footpath or closing off access to the area beneath and around the egretry during the active breeding season, this will ensure the public do not disturb the birds and also tackle public hygiene issues. Some modification to the environment below the nesting trees could be considered such as the mounting of ropes or cargo netting to ensure that those birds that do naturally fall from their nest and are strong enough could climb back to safety where the parents would continue feeding and caring for them.

 

What the general public can do to protect the egrets in Hong Kong? 

Don’t disturb nesting egrets, and in particular do not undertake maintenance work in and around vegetation at nesting sites during the breeding season (Spring and Summer). Take on a more tolerant attitude, humans are part of nature so be in harmony with nature, respect and enjoy the bird's presence rather than complain about it and destroy life.  Realize it is an amazing opportunity to be close to nature in our urban setting – this is something to cherish and is a unique experience in Hong Kong.

 

More about the conservation of Tai Po Market Egretry by the Green Hub, a centre of KFBG located near the egretry:

The ecological sensitivity of the Tai Po Market Egretry has been taken into account since the Green Hub project planning stage began in 2010. During the building renovation work period from 2013 to 2015, a protective ‘bird curtain’ was set up alongside the walking path at the northern side of the project site to reduce disturbance the birds. Work of high disturbance, such as roof renovation and noisy works, were avoided at the northern side of the project site during the egret breeding season from March to August. An ecologist was appointed to conduct a weekly field survey to monitor the egretry throughout the renovation period. Before the Green Hub commenced service in 2015, a bird screen was set up along the walking path at the northern side of the project site to reduce disturbance to wild birds. Access to this walking path is always under control and visitors are prohibited from the walking path unless accompanied by Green Hub staff.

Three Little Egrets are ready to be released

Two Little Egrets take the lead to soar high

The last Little Egret stands on the rock to say goodbye to the staff of Fauna Conservation Department

Right: Dr Gary Ades, Head of Fauna Conservation Department, KFBG

Left: Ms Tamari Yu, Conservation Officer, Fauna Conservation Department, KFBG