Birds of prey get ready to take wing at new Ocean Park exhibit

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 January, 2010, 12:00am

Ocean Park trainers are preparing a flock of new arrivals for the public gaze - not pandas or endangered fish, but raptors.

The four protected species of raptor - the steppe eagle, Lanner falcon, striated caracara and turkey vulture - will go on view for the first time in Hong Kong from February 13, to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

The park took delivery six months ago of about 20 raptors from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. They were moved to the park's Bird Theatre after spending 30 to 50 days in quarantine.

Howard Chuk Hau-chung, the park's senior curator of terrestrial life science, said yesterday that the raptors were adapting well to their new environment. 'We want to raise awareness of conservation and environmental protection. The raptors will be ambassadors for the message of conservation to the public,' he said.

The new arrivals are being taught to understand trainers' commands in preparation for the park's new exhibit.

Visitors will be able to observe the birds hunting and flying.

The raptors' body temperature has been monitored by park staff as the birds adapt to the climate in Hong Kong.

Steppe eagles are mainly found in southern Russian and Central Asia. They feed on rabbits and rats, using their sharp claws to capture the animals.

With a wingspan of as much as 1.8 metres, the eagles can stay airborne for up to four hours without flapping their wings.

The smaller Lanner falcons are commonly found in Africa, southern Europe and in some parts of Asia. With their acute eyesight, they mainly feed on insects and reptiles, and occasionally on carrion and spiders. The falcons can fly at speeds of up to 80 km/h.

Mainly found in the Falkland Islands, the striated caracara eats lizards, frogs and eggs, while turkey vultures are found in southern Canada and South America. They have excellent eyesight and a good sense of smell and exist mainly on carrion.

Singaporean bird trainer Thiam Wai-soon is assisting the park with its new flock.

'I came here to train the staff in how to take care of the raptors and to help them to build up trust with the birds,' he said.

The four species are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which stipulates controlled trade of the birds to avoid putting them in risky situations.

Ocean Park is considering breeding the raptors. It currently keeps 800 birds of more than 20 species.