No walk in the (Bird) Park

No walk in the (Bird) Park
NO MEAN FEAT: A flamingo is identified by the green ring around its leg.

Feathers flew and loud nasal honks punctuated the air around Jurong Bird Park last month.

It was the annual "doctor's visit" for the 450 Lesser and Greater Flamingos at Asia's largest bird park.

It was no mean feat gathering the feathered creatures for their body checks and vaccinations. It took a team of 23 keepers and vets an entire day to complete the job, said Dr Luis Carlos Neves, 36, deputy director of zoology at Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

These flamingos inhabit a lake at the Bird Park "slightly smaller than a football field", said the Portuguese veterinarian.

He has been overseeing the vaccination procedure for the past four years.

The day of the vaccination started at 7am. The vaccinations are to ensure that the Bird Park's collection continues to be safe and Singapore is free of the avian flu, said Dr Luis.

He said: "It is especially important that aquatic birds, like flamingos, are vaccinated, as they are more susceptible."

At the Flamingo habitat that morning, a net was first used to divide the huge lake into two and the birds were slowly herded to one side amid the mad splashing of water.

But the keepers kept their calm and confidently guided the birds across.

Dr Luis said: "We try to do it as smoothly as possible and no one shouts to alarm them.

"We guide them gently because they are very nervous creatures. We don't want them to trip and fall over their long legs." The handlers then went in with more nets to split the birds into smaller groups. Three stations were set up, with a veterinarian, a bird handler and a data recorder at each.

VACCINATION

One keeper deftly picked up a bird amid struggling and flapping of wings. Once the bird calmed down, the vet swiftly administered the vaccination.

The vet also conducted a general examination of each bird and checked its vital statistics, such as its body weight.

A simple blood test was a job for two, with the keeper holding onto the flamingo's beak and neck to restrain it while the vet carefully inserted the needle into the bird's neck area.

Their feathers, beaks and feet were thoroughly checked for any signs of injury or damage. The birds were also showered with anti-mite solution and given deworming medication.

With so many birds, how did the handlers tell them apart?

Their identifications were recorded and verified at the station, with a green band placed around their leg. This year, 70 chicks were identified, which is a very healthy number.

The birds are not domesticated and do not like being handled, so the vaccination process is a logistical challenge, said Dr Luis. "It requires all my staff to be present, as the Bird Park has around 4,000 birds. And we don't want to hurry but want to carry it out calmly and consistently," he said.


This article was first published on July 28, 2014.
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