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Wildlife Camera » Going home to Socorro

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Going home to Socorro

27 November 2008


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socorro dove

The dove in front of my lens at Edinburgh Zoo looked like one of the New World’s common birds, the Mourning dove. There are reckoned to be nearly 500 million Mourning doves in North America and up to 70 million are shot by hunters each season.

It also looked rather like the Eared dove, which is numbered in millions in South America – about 23 million in one district of northern Argentina alone.

But the Socorro dove is different.

 It used to be considered only slightly different, so it was classified as a sub-species of the Mourning dove. But about 50 years ago it suddenly became very rare, which encouraged ornithologists to improve its status to a full species, Zenaida graysoni, rather than Zenaida macroura graysoni, distinguished by its brighter colouring and longer legs.

Today it is extinct in the wild. There are fewer than 100 Socorro doves in the world, most of them in zoos and aviaries in Europe, and none at all in their original homeland, the small volcanic island of Socorro, 250 miles off the Pacific coast of Mexico.

So the quiet bird enjoying the Edinburgh sunshine was very special — one of the small group of creatures which have been saved by captive breeding. And soon it may be reintroduced to Socorro.
Five birds from Edinburgh Zoo and seven birds from Paignton Zoo in Devon were flown to California in October and have now been transferred to Albuquerque Zoo in New Mexico.

The birds will form a satellite population outside Europe, freeing up space in European collections to allow for continued breeding. Their offspring could be the first Socorro doves to be seen on their native home since 1972, when the last wild birds fell prey to feral cats.
Stefan Stadler, of Frankfurt Zoo, the European Endangered Species Co-ordinator for the Socorro dove, said: “We are thrilled that decades of caring for this species are soon going to result in its return to the wild.” (Text and photo copyright Willy Newlands)
 


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