It is hoped that the current and future conservation efforts to protect the amazing Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the wild will be successful. There is a huge amount of work going towards ensuring that this is the case – which you can read more about here. However, when a species becomes this rare, one approach to aiding its survival is to establish a conservation breeding population as a safety net.
The Plan! The plan is to take a small number of eggs from the Russian breeding population in the 2011 season. Because so few chicks are currently surviving to adulthood, taking a small number of eggs from the wild will not have a great impact on the adult breeding population. As such, the captive breeding mission has limited costs but potentially huge benefits to the long-term survival of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The collected eggs will be hatched and reared in a special Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation breeding facility, located close to the breeding site. Once the chicks are a few months old, they will be transported from Russia, via the Moscow Zoo, to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in the UK, where they will be looked after and their behaviour studied carefully. The captive population, of around 20 birds, will allow conservationists to better understand the ecology of the species and how to conserve it in the wild. These birds will also be used to supplement the wild population if numbers fall too low to be sustainable. Equally they could be used to reintroduce the species if it goes extinct in the wild. Hopefully this will never be necessary!
The wider picture However, it is essential that the major threats to Spoon-billed Sandpiper survival, especially trapping and habitat loss, are addressed before captive birds are introduced back into the wild. Therefore this captive breeding programme will be part of a broader programme that will include conservation actions in the wild. These actions, if effective, could save millions of other birds that use the East Asian Australasian flyway and face the same threats as the Spoony. Captive populations of birds similar to the Spoon-billed Sandpiper have been successfully set up in the past, so there is every reason to believe that this attempt will also be successful. WWT Slimbridge has a great deal of experience in dealing with critically endangered waterbirds in both the wild and captivity, so is very well set up to manage this project!
Joining Forces! The conservation breeding expedition, led by staff from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Birds Russia, has support from the RSPB, BTO, BirdLife International, ArcCona, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force and Moscow Zoo. The project is funded by WWT and RSPB, with additional financial contributions and support from BirdLife International, the East-Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership, the Convention on Migratory Species, and Heritage Expeditions.