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Lincoln Park Zoo Group Aims to Save an Ultra-Rare Bird

By Justin Breen | December 18, 2012 6:34am | Updated on December 18, 2012 9:17am

LINCOLN PARK — A virtual bird game of Match.com was conducted Monday at Lincoln Park Zoo.

That's where a small group of Population Management Center and zoo workers tried to determine where to send individual Bali mynah birds that could potentially breed with other members of the ultra-rare species.

The bright white-and-blue bird is considered functionally extinct in the wild, which means its extinction seems unavoidable. American zoos have 137 in captivity, including seven at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Of the 137 birds available at 53 zoos nationwide, 120 are breedable. Of that number, about 35 are reproducing.

"It's nice to work with a population that's as strong and robust as this," said Megan Reinersten Ross, the zoo's vice president of animal care.

Ross works with managers at the 53 participating zoos to see if their Bali mynahs are breeding — or if they even like each other. If not, the birds likely will be sent to other zoos within the Species Survival Plan system.

Steven Thompson, senior vice president of capital and programmatic planning at the zoo, keeps track of the 137 Bali mynahs on software appropriately titled "Studbook" data.

"That helps us visualize moving animals around," Thompson said.

Thompson said it isn't clear how many Bali mynahs live in the wild, if any do at all. There may be wild populations in the West Bali National Park and on the small island of Nusa Penida off the coast of Bali, but no concrete data is available, Thompson said.

The birds are prized by poachers for their plumage and are considered status symbols in Indonesia. There are no plans to reintroduce them into the wild.

Lincoln Park Zoo has produced 31 Bali mynahs since 1972, including three that hatched in August.

Population biologist Kristine Schad said the median life expectancy for Bali mynahs in captivity is about 7.4 years. The oldest bird on record was about 26 years old.

Schad, Ross, Thompson and Sara Sullivan, associate population biologist at the Population Management Center, plan to make recommendations of where to send the breedable birds in the next few days.

Participating zoos have about 30 days to contest the decision, Ross said.