For captive populations like these, the more genetic diversity the better, Hallager said. Its really exciting.
Hallager heads the Kori Bustard Species Survival Plan administered by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Species Survival Plans, or SSPs, are population management and conservation programs for selected species in North American zoos and aquariums. The SSPs are designed to maintain healthy and self-sustaining populations that are genetically diverse and demographically stable.
Telemetric eggs like the ones used for the National Zoos kori bustards have been used for whooping cranes at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada, and for waterfowl at the Saint Louis Zoo, but the technique is not yet widely applied. In addition to the kori bustards, the National Zoo also has two telemetric eggs in flamingo nests. Telemetric eggs are not yet available in sizes smaller than duck-sized eggs; but, according to Hallager, eggs for smaller species should be technologically feasible in the future.
Kori bustards, native to eastern and southern Africa, are the heaviest birds capable of flight, with males reaching up to 40 pounds; still, they are primarily ground-dwelling birds, inhabiting grasslands and feeding on an omnivorous diet. Wild populations are threatened by habitat loss and poaching for their meat and feathers.
Only the National Zoo and eight other institutions in the world have successfully bred kori bustards in captivity. There are four adult kori bustards on display at the National Zoo, which may be seen by visitors at the outdoor Bird House exhibit.