uShaka Sea World today, (April 21st), released a Tropical Shearwater bird into the Indian Ocean. This rare bird, thought to be a fledgling due to its size, was rescued by a member of the public when it washed up onto North Beach (Durban) exhausted and emaciated with an injured right leg, three weeks ago.
With concern for the animal’s survival, the bird was taken to Dr David Allan – a Curator of Birds at the Durban Natural Science Museum, who examined the bird. He found that this species of bird had only ever been seen in South Africa on two occasions – once being a brief sighting and the other being a deceased bird, in the early 1980’s. It is for this reason that physical interaction, rehabilitation and release of this bird was so special and one that was so rare to our Durban shores.
According to Dr Allan, this species of bird originates from the islands off the coast of the Indian Ocean – that of the Europa or Comoro Islands, where they breed. “This particular bird was a juvenile and had just left the nest. It had most likely wandered to Durban by accident after coming into some difficulty”.
With little hope for the little emaciated fledgling’s survival, Dr Allan immediately handed over the compromised bird to uShaka Sea World Curator and Veterinarian within the Animal Health Department, Francois Lampen, who has years of experience, tended to the soft tissue injury to its right leg as well as the malnourishment it was experiencing at the time.
As with all his other patients, Lampen examined the bird thoroughly and stabilised it. The bird was tended to every day since its arrival to encourage eating in order for it to gain much needed weight.
Within one week of rehabilitation, Lampen noticed an improvement of the bird and allowed the bird to start physiotherapy in the salt water pools to determine the birds swimming patterns. Once the bird gained sufficient weight, its swimming patterns improved and it was using the wing that had initially been compromised. Lampen decided it was time to release the bird back into the wild.
On releasing the bird, the weather conditions were pristine and the release went smoothly with little stress caused to the small animal. Coined “Jimmy” by the staff, the bird took to the water on the first approach, but suddenly turned back around to Lampen, who was responsible for the release. Lampen then used another approach and released the bird into the air where it flew for a few seconds before safely landing on the top of the ocean. After 15 minutes of preening itself, the rare little bird took off in flight.
“I assume the bird will either wander above the Indian Ocean as these birds can stay out at sea for up to 2 years before heading back to the island of their birth – where breeding will occur,” added Dr David Allan.
Dr Allan was extremely impressed with the way uShaka Sea World rehabilitated the bird and accompanied the Sea World team on the sea trip for its release.
Due to the rarity of this bird, before its departure, blood samples were taken and are currently being prepared to be sent for generic testing in France.