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Offbeat: Rare reintroduction of antigone cranes in nature in Thailand, Christmas day

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Une grue Antigone, élevée en captivité dans un zoo, s'envole après avoir été relâchée dans la nature. © Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP An antigone crane, raised in captivity in a zoo, flies after being released in nature. At sunrise, one Christmas morning, 13 antigone cranes from Southeast Asia were released above the undulating waters of a Thai lake in a rare attempt to revive this endangered species.

Antigone cranes, these large non-demigiting birds also called "Sarus cranes", were on the verge of disappearance fifty years ago, only existing in small numbers in captivity. The first successful reintroduction in nature took place in 2011 and, since then, more than 140 birds have been reintroduced into their natural habitat in the province of Buriram (northeast) in Thailand .

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"This is the only place where Thai cranes are able to live and reproduce by themselves," said Governor Chaiwat Chuntiracong, after the release of the few specimens. The birds were transported in special containers from the Nakhon Ratchasima zoo to the Huai Chorakhe Mak nature reserve.

How can an animal born in a zoo be reintroduced in nature?

The 13 birds, recognizable by red plumage covering their heads, were released at the same time, awkwardly beating wings, in front of dazzled spectators who made the trip to the purpose.

The habitat of the antigone crane, degraded by agriculture

The success rate is satisfactory, since 60 to 70 % of them survive after their release. Before being released, each bird has a chip and a label, which allows researchers to follow it and improve their conservation efforts. In addition to breeding and liberation of birds, an important part of the program consists in educating neighboring populations on the species and the local environment.

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the Huai Chorakhe Mak tank has been chosen in part thanks to the natural proliferation of earth chestnuts, an important source of food for cranes during the season dried. But their habitat was threatened by "the widespread invasion of agriculture", according to Thanachon Kensing, director of the Nakhon Ratchasima zoo.

Objective: to withdraw the antigone crane from the list of endangered species

The zoo has created a learning center to teach the inhabitants how to better take care of the environment, which is vital for the survival of birds. "It is difficult to change the attitude of the villagers," admits Thanchachon Kensing. "But if we manage to communicate with them to make them understand that we need them, this project will be a success," he added.

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"The ultimate objective is to secure the crane population and to withdraw from the list of endangered species ", concludes Tanat Uttaraviset, researcher at the Nakhon Ratchasima zoo.

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