Conservationists are devastated after the first two chicks born in captivity to one of the world’s rarest birds die at a wildfowl centre in Gloucestershire
Wednesday 6 July 201610.15 BSTLast modified on Wednesday 6 July 201610.40 BST
An attempt to breed one of the world’s rarest birds in captivity has failed after the only two chicks which hatched died, conservationists said.
Efforts to breed critically endangered spoon-billed sandpipers, named after their unusual beak, from the world’s only captive population seemed to have yielded results, with seven eggs laid and two chicks hatching.
One of the tiny birds, which were little bigger than a bumblebee, died soon after it hatched at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) headquarters at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.
The other appeared to be thriving, but despite round-the-clock care, its health suddenly deteriorated after a couple of days and it too died.
Conservationists said they were “devastated” by the deaths, as it has taken three years of encouragement for the 23-strong flock to attempt to breed at all.
The spoon-billed sandpiper is teetering on the brink of extinction in the wild, hit by loss of intertidal habitat in East Asia as it migrates south from its Russian Arctic breeding grounds, and bird trapping in their wintering sites in Bangladesh and Burma.
A captive flock was established at Slimbridge in 2011, in case conservationists ran out of time to prevent the bird becoming extinct in the wild and needed to rely on an “ark” of breeding birds in captivity to keep the species alive.
While conservation work has boosted numbers of the bird in the wild in the past couple of years, there are still only around 200 pairs.
WWT head of conservation breeding Nigel Jarrett said: “This is obviously very upsetting for the team.
“We’re absolutely devastated, but we’re trying to keep in mind that this has still been a positive step towards establishing a viable breeding population of spoon-billed sandpipers for conservation.”