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Translocation and hand-rearing techniques for establishing a colony of threatened albatross



Many breeding colonies of Procellariiformes have been threatened with extinction. Chick translocation has been shown to be an effective method for establishing new “safer” colonies of burrow-nesting species, but techniques for surface-nesting species have not been fully developed. The entire breeding population of the threatened Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastoria albatrus is restricted to two sites, Torishima Island and the Senkaku Islands, and neither site is secure due to volcanic activity or political instability. The Short-tailed Albatross Recovery Team has recommended facilitating the recovery of this species by establishing at least one additional colony through the translocation and hand-rearing of chicks at a safe historical breeding site. To evaluate the feasibility of this approach, we hand-reared 10 post-guard phase chicks of two related species in 2006–2007: Laysan Albatross P. immutabilis translocated from Midway Atoll to Kaua’i Island, Hawai’i and Black-footed Albatross P. nigripes translocated from a nearby islet in the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands to Mukojima Island, Japan. In these pilot studies, 40% of Laysan Albatross chicks and 90% of Black-footed Albatross chicks fledged successfully. Following this groundwork, 40 post-guard phase Short-tailed Albatross chicks were translocated from Torishima Island to Mukojima Island in February 2008–2010 and hand-reared to fledging. Their fledging success has been 100% in all three years. Fledging body sizes were similar or greater in hand-reared chicks at the release site than parent-reared chicks on Torishima Island. There were significant differences in levels of some blood chemistry parameters between pre-fledging hand-reared and parent-reared chicks. The techniques developed in our studies have broad-reaching implications for the future conservation of threatened populations of other surface-nesting seabirds.

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