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Smithsonian's National Zoo researchers use electronic eggs to help save threatened species

This is an important summer for kori bustards at the Smithsonians National Zoo. Four chicks of this threatened African bird have hatched in June and July. Along with the bumper crop of baby birds is a bumper crop of new information for scientists working to preserve the species, thanks to an electronic egg that transmits real-time incubation data from the nest.

The telemetric egg, placed in the nest after the mother has laid her eggs, contains sensors that record temperatures on four quadrants of the eggs surface as well as in the eggs interior. Motion detectors record how frequently the mother turns the egg during incubation. The data are recorded 24 hours a day and downloaded to a computer every 48 hours. National Zoo staff use the information to mimic natural incubation in a controlled setting in the lab.

Its really a breakthrough. This is data we couldnt get any other way, said National Zoo biologist Sara Hallager. The information we gather helps us both understand more about the biology of these birds and how to better incubate them artificially.

Understanding the normal activities of breeding is essential for improving husbandry practices for a species. But much of this basic biological information remains unknown for many threatened and endangered species. Temperatures and turning frequencies for artificially incubating eggs can sometimes rely as much on guesswork as on hard data. Improving the success rate of breeding not only increases the numbers of birds in captive populations, but also helps maintain their genetic diversity, which is essential for a healthy population.

Since it began its kori bustard breeding program in 1997, the National Zoo has bred and raised to adulthood nearly 40 individual birds, which have been shared with other zoos. The four eggs hatched this summer have some desired genetic diversity. The two eggs hatched in June are from a well-established genetic line; one of the eggs hatche
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Contact: John Gibbons
GibbonsJP@si.edu
202-633-3083
Smithsonian
26-Jul-2007


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