Why Scientists Are 'Interviewing' Captive Birds Before Releasing Them Into The Wild

All creatures are not created equal. Some people are braver and more adept at problem-solving than others, even within a same species. This is confirmed by our research into the severely endangered Bali myna, a unique bird that can only be found on the Indonesian island of Bali.

On the island, less than 50 adult Bali mynas may still be found in the natural dry woodland and grassland. To increase the number of birds in the wild, conservationists are reintroducing additional birds, albeit with varying degrees of success.

How effective these attempts are will depend on our ability to comprehend how each species observes, analyzes, stores, and responds on the information it receives (what scientists refer to as "cognition"). In fact, it may be crucial to the survival of many endangered species.

In order to find food and suitable nesting locations, these birds will need to travel communities, farms, and other human-dominated areas while avoiding a variety of predators and other dangers. Their goal is to live, prosper, and successfully reproduce.

In order to assist conservationists in choosing the most qualified Bali mynas for release into the wild, our study has begun to pinpoint the traits that make specific individuals most fit for this job.

In three UK zoos, we experimented with 22 Bali mynas to see how they would react to unfamiliar foods like jelly and unusual items adjacent to things they are used to eating every day like fruit and insects.

Additionally, we evaluated each bird's problem-solving skills by having them raise a lid or pull a rope to access worms that were concealed. Each bird's behavior revealed who was more adaptive and could have the best chance of surviving in unfamiliar situations.

When an object they had never seen before was present, birds took longer to contact familiar food, according to our research.

However, the birds were quicker to approach novel foods and objects when other species, such as white-spotted laughing-thrushes or lilac-breasted rollers, were in their aviaries, suggesting they can overcome fear when competing for food. This fear of novelty was more pronounced in adult birds than in juvenile birds.

Although individual birds differed in their behavior, they responded consistently to a variety of strange foods and objects. The more courageous birds were the ones who solved each new puzzle more quickly, indicating that they could also be more adaptive after being freed.

Why this is good for conservation

Due to problems including habitat degradation, poaching, and pollution, many animal species are in danger of going extinct. Reintroducing animals to the habitats they formerly called home can help offset these losses.

Such reintroductions, however, frequently fail because captive animals frequently struggle to obtain food, adjust to shifting environments, identify predators, and reproduce. In reality, issues with reintroductions have occurred in 30% of cases as a result of animal behavior.

One important criterion for determining how likely an animal is to lead the return of their species to the wild is how they make decisions, such as where to build a nest, how easily they adapt their behavior to new circumstances, and how they learn, including from other animals (both within and outside their own species).

We discovered whether Bali mynas, generally the braver or more cautious birds, are likely to be better suited for release, indicating two divergent but ultimately successful survival strategies.

But in order to better prepare animals for surviving after release, this kind of research may also record how each species acts in the wild. Different people react differently to new or altered environments.

For example, braver captive quick foxes had a worse chance of surviving after being released than more cautious foxes, maybe because they are less likely to avoid predators, other animals, or potentially dangerous things left by humans, such traps.

These understandings can aid conservationists in teaching animals to identify and react correctly to dangers like predators as well as to find secure food or breeding grounds.

Alal (Hawaiian crows), which are thought to be extinct in the wild, may learn what to do if they come across a predator in a forest with the aid of pre-release training, according to research.

We can determine whether these measures boost survival rates by measuring their impact. The evidence is encouraging thus far.

Work with young black-tailed prairie dogs demonstrated that training with experienced adults improved the canines' long-term survival after being released.

the extent to which animals can adapt

The effort to reintroduce species is picking up speed. Natural habitat expansion is being overshadowed by the quick changes in land use, such as the conversion of forests to farms or suburban developments.

It is crucial to comprehend how various species react to stresses like urbanization and use this knowledge to promote conservation.

Even the most adaptive creatures have their limitations, and some stresses can weaken positive qualities like a quick learner.

Birds living in towns and cities were found to be more opportunistic foragers, less afraid of predators, and quicker to solve basic issues than those found in rural regions, according to research on the invasive common myna in Australia.

However, it has been discovered that rats and Australian magpies' learning, memory, and sleep are all negatively impacted by urban noise pollution, including the sound of traffic.

People from many disciplines may cooperate to increase the likelihood of maintaining the natural environment by combining their efforts and insights in study, conservation, and teaching.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.