WCS researchers identified rare Nordmann’s greenshanks in Indonesia

NEW YORK (May 28, 2010)—For the past several years, health experts with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have caught, banded, and released thousands of wild birds around Southeast Asia in an effort to monitor bird populations for avian influenza viruses. These activities also produce another benefit: new information on rare bird species.

In Indonesia, WCS field teams recently gathered new data on the Nordmann’s greenshank—an endangered shorebird species with a total global population of only 500-1,000—on the beaches of Jambi Province on the island of Sumatra. The shorebird is so rare that any new information on its distribution is vital to conservation plans for the species.

The findings are presented in the most recent edition of BirdingASIA, a journal published by the Oriental Bird Club, in an article authored by WCS’s Fransisca Noni Tirtaningtyas and Joost Philippa.

“While our surveillance activities are mostly focused on testing birds for avian influenza as part of WCS’s ongoing health investigations, we can also fill gaps in our understanding of the migration range of many bird species,” said Philippa, WCS field veterinarian and co-author on the paper. “Our research findings have applications for both health and conservation efforts alike.”

Nordmann’s greenshank is a medium-sized shorebird that has been classified as Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) since 1994 due to the development of coastal wetlands throughout its range. It breeds in eastern Russia, specifically along the coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk and Sakhalin Island. In Southeast Asia (the bird’s non-breeding range), Nordmann’s greenshank is rarely observed, and has never been caught and banded until now. In order to ensure the survival of this species, it is important to preserve areas all along its migration route and in its wintering grounds: WCS’s newly collected data adds significantly to the knowledge on the migration patterns of this species and will help identify important sites which will need to be protected from development.

WCS’s monitoring efforts in Indonesia and Vietnam are currently being funded by a three-year, $750,000 grant from Cargill, an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial, and industrial products and services.

“We’re partnering with WCS because we believe the health of wildlife, livestock and humans are interconnected. Knowledge gathered through partnerships such as the one with WCS can help us protect the global food system from emerging diseases,” said Mike Robach, vice president for Global Food Safety for Cargill. “It’s an exciting bonus that WCS’s surveillance activities for avian influenza are also producing new information on a rare and endangered bird species.”

Between 2007-2010, WCS’s monitoring team in Indonesia caught and released five Nordmann’s greenshanks—taking biological samples and marking the birds with leg bands and flags—on the island of Sumatra. The team also observed two sizable groups of birds, made up of 7 and 21 individuals respectively. The brightly colored leg flags enable bird enthusiasts along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, covering 22 countries, to report sightings of flagged migratory birds that can then be traced back to their wintering site on Sumatra.

Monitoring efforts have also produced preliminary results regarding the presence of avian influenza viruses in Indonesia’s shore bird populations. Of the 578 migratory shorebirds tested in Indonesia to date, some 15 percent have been found to carry low-pathogenic forms of avian influenza viruses (many avian influenza viruses that do not adversely affect the birds that carry them). The Nordmann’s greenshank samples tested negative for avian influenza viruses. These are the first data that confirm that shorebirds in Indonesia are natural reservoirs of avian influenza viruses, a finding that contributes to our global understanding of the virus.

Cargill and WCS’s partnership began in 2005. In addition to monitoring for avian influenza viruses in wild bird populations, Cargill funding also supports the following efforts as part of the One World, One Health Initiative: monitoring for avian influenza viruses in wild birds sold as pets or food; monitoring for malaria in monkeys in the wildlife trade; training for veterinarians and students; environmental education for children, and other activities in Asia and Latin America.

Srephen Sautner: (1-718-220-3682); ssautner@wcs.org
John Delaney: (1-718-220-3275); jdelaney@wcs.org

The Wildlife Conservation Society
saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

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