FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Joins in Last-chance Effort to Save
Endangered Milky Stork Species
Conservation Organization Aims to Repeat California Condor Program’s Success, with
Last Remaining Milky Storks in North America
SAN DIEGO (July 13, 2023) – After more than two years of dedicated work, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance conservationists are achieving success breeding a critically endangered coastal bird: the milky stork. This breeding program is part of an 11th-hour effort with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Taxon Advisory Group (AZA TAG) to assist the last remaining individuals of the species living in North America—helping them successfully reproduce, and bolster the world’s population of milky storks.
Under this program, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance brought North America's last 23 surviving milky storks to a habitat at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, reminiscent of the concerted effort made in the 1980s that helped save the California condor population from imminent extinction. While small milky stork population pockets exist in Asia, the team has been working to aid birds previously living in wildlife facilities throughout North America to produce new chicks. So far, nine milky stork chicks have hatched through these efforts, with the newest one hatching last month.
"San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is the only zoological organization that has successfully bred and raised this species in the last decade," said Andrew Stehly, curator of birds at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. "So, when we brought the birds together, we believed the Safari Park was the best location for this vital program. I'm proud of our organization and AZA, for stepping up and doing what's needed—because if we didn’t act, there’s a possibility we would lose these beautiful and important birds."
The world’s population of milky storks has fallen substantially since the late 1980s. Scientists attribute this decline to habitat destruction and deforestation from human activities, such as fish farming, rice cultivation, human resettlement and increased wildlife trafficking. In 2008, the birds’ global population dropped to less than 2,200 individuals, alarming conservationists and leading them to change their status to Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
With the recently hatched chicks, the North America program is moving full steam ahead. This past week, the team conducted the first medical checkup on the newest hatchling to look for irregularities, obtain weight, collect samples to determine sex and implant a microchip.
"Milky storks look the same when they are adults, so we use microchips and banding to tell them apart," said Stehly. "This checkup went very fast; the chick was deemed healthy, and was reunited with its parents. It is a tremendous honor every time I see a new chick, because it increases my confidence that we will save these birds. Of course, the continuing success of the California Condor program is proof of what is possible through these conservation efforts."
About San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is a nonprofit international conservation leader, committed to inspiring a passion for nature and working toward a world where all life thrives. The Alliance empowers people from around the globe to support their mission to conserve wildlife through innovation and partnerships. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance supports cutting-edge conservation and brings the stories of their work back to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park—giving millions of guests, in person and virtually, the opportunity to experience conservation in action. The work of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance extends from San Diego to eco-regional conservation “hubs” across the globe, where their expertise and assets—including the renowned Wildlife Biodiversity Bank—are able to effectively align with hundreds of regional partners to improve outcomes for wildlife in more coordinated efforts. By leveraging these skills in wildlife care and conservation science, and through collaboration with hundreds of partners, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has reintroduced more than 44 endangered species to native habitats. Each year, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s work reaches over 1 billion people in 150 countries via news media, social media, their websites, educational resources and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Explorers television programming, which is in children’s hospitals in 13 countries. Success is made possible by the support of members, donors and guests to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, who are Wildlife Allies committed to ensuring all life thrives.
B-roll of ninth milky story chick at San Diego Zoo Safari Park undergoing first medical checkup
Photos of ninth milky stork chick, with its parents, at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Photos taken May 31, 2023, Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance