Scientists in Dubai have hatched an endangered desert bird with the help of a common chicken egg, in what they hope will be a major boost for conservation.
The Central Veterinary Research Laboratory team has been successful in breeding houbara bustard chicks, a rare falconry prey that is in decline in the UAE.
They believe the new implant system will “provide a tool to hatch damaged eggs, as well as soft-shelled eggs of endangered wild birds”, according to their research paper released this week. With funding from UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the researchers placed fertilised houbara yolks in the whites of chicken eggs and other surrogate houbara eggs to see if they would develop.
The found that after four days, 76 per cent of the yolks surrounded by chicken egg whites and 61 per cent surrounded by houbara egg whites were still alive.
The yolks, and the whites surrounding them, were then moved to bigger chicken eggs to give them a better chance to grow. In the end, two houbara chicks hatched from the chicken egg whites and one hatched from the houbara egg white, comprising seven per cent and five per cent of the samples in the experiment.
While the technique needs to be refined further, it shows that rare bird yolks can hatch in other eggs. This could help the chicks survive if the shell of their own egg is damaged. The findings are significant for the houbara, which is a favourite meal for falcons and therefore a major target for falconers.
However, their numbers have plunged throughout the Gulf because of over-hunting and loss of habitat. The team was particularly keen on trying this technique after watching British scientists clone a sheep known as Dolly. International teams of scientists soon discovered that it is extremely difficult to clone birds because of the complications in extracting genetic material. The Dubai research team hopes this new technique will advance science while also conserving rare species of birds around the world.