Kori Bustards- Feathered Balloons Of The African Plains
National Zoological Park
As zoos begin to take a more prominent role in the conservation and reestablishment of wildlife populations through captive rearing and breeding, it becomes critical to investigate and understand how captivity can affect animal behavior. In addition to conservation goals, a major part of the mission of most zoos is public education. To accomplish this, animals are exhibited for zoo visitors. The degree to which many animals are exposed to human visitors is unnaturally high. In general, visitors may have one of two effects on animals in zoos. On one hand, visitors may act as a source of enrichment in what may be an otherwise impoverished environment. On the other hand, the public may be a source of stress for wild animals that are not used to contact with humans. Understanding the “visitor effect” is important for several reasons including assessing animal welfare, interpreting behaviors and promoting breeding. Previous studies of the “visitor effect” have almost exclusively focused on the impact on non-human primates but these studies have been mixed and difficult to interpret. There has been no rigorous study of the effect of crowd levels on any species of captive bird.
There is a need for studies of the effect of the zoo environment on birds. Birds can be highly sensitive to a variety of stressors and studies of wild birds have shown that the presence of humans disturbs reproduction in many species. One such species is the kori bustard (Ardeotis kori). The Kori Bustard is a large polytypic African bustard with two subspecies classified according to geographical distribution, size and plumage variations. Kori Bustards are generally seen as shy birds and, in the wild, have shown a low tolerance for human activity. They are a CITES Appendix II species and wild populations are considered vulnerable. They are part of the American Zoological Associations (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) and breeding programs exist in several zoos throughout the world. Although kori bustards are not an endangered species, their populations are known to be declining in the wild due to hunting, habitat loss and an inherent low birth rate.
Kori bustards are not commonly bred in captivity and to date, only seven facilitates in the world have bred the species. Understanding the needs of kori bustards in captivity is important to zoos that are interested in improving husbandry standards for the species as improved husbandry practices yield increased breeding. The National Zoo began a breeding program for kori bustards in 1997 and nearly 30 chicks have hatched since that time. In 2000, the National Zoo began a behavioral watch on kori bustards in an effort to increase the basic understanding of the species in captivity. The kori bustard behavior watch is staffed by FONZ (Friends of the National Zoo) Behavior Watchers who have been trained to collect specific data on the birds. FONZ watchers collect data on activity budget, space utilization and crowd level. One of the purposes of the behavior watch is to understand how crowd levels affect the behavior of captive kori bustards and to relate this to the development and implementation of guidelines for housing of this species in captivity. Because the breeding season of kori bustards usually coincides with peak crowd levels at most zoos, it is important to understand the impact that large crowds may have on behavior and reproduction.