Hurt rare bird set free at Mai Po

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am

A young black-faced spoonbill flew the coup at Mai Po nature reserve yesterday after seven weeks of tender, loving care to treat injuries caused when it got entangled in fishing line and swallowed a hook.

The bird, less than a year old, is the only one of four birds found near the reserve to survive such an ordeal.

The first two injured spoonbills died after swallowing a hook, while a third died after a hook injured its left wing and it had to be amputated.

The surviving spoonbill - an identity ring with the number A39 around its leg - stepped out of the cage and gingerly looked around before spreading its wings and flying off.

He or she - reserve staff did not get around to doing the tricky checks needed to determine its sex - soon joined the spoonbill flock milling around above the pond.

The bird fell victim to fishing lines and hooks that fish farmers set around ponds to deter predators. The farmers can be charged if it is found that the lines and hooks have injured protected birds.

Black-faced spoonbills and other wild birds are protected by Hong Kong law.

The spoonbills are an endangered species, with a world population of 1,700. About one-fifth spend their winters at Mai Po.

The global conservation group WWF and Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, which rescued and treated the bird, urged fish farmers to seek more humane ways to protect their stocks.

WWF officer Bena Smith urged bird watchers and people who find fishing lines and hooks on the ponds to report them.

The maximum penalty for violating the Wild Animal Protection Ordinance is a HK$100,000 fine and one years' jail.

Mr Smith found the injured bird that was released yesterday on January 10, entangled in fishing line and with an injured right wing.

Kadoorie Farm conservation officer Amanda Crow said it took its veterinarian three hours to remove the hook from the bird's stomach. Its weight then gradually increased from 1.1kg to 1.7kg.

The Mai Po reserve reopened on Wednesday after closing for a bird-flu scare. It hosted four school groups yesterday and will welcome five more today.