Another feather in the cap for Blackpool Zoo bird expert

24 September 2015

Blackpool Zoo keeper Johnpaul Houston is taking part in an international expedition involving scientists and government officials from all over the world to help protect one of the rarest birds on earth.

Johnpaul will travel to eastern Russia and the Lazovsky State Nature Reserve, which is also one of the last strongholds of the Amur tiger and the Amur leopard, as part of the start of a 10 year project to protect the scaly-sided mergansers’ breeding sites and wintering location.

He is one of only three Westerners invited to take part in the trip to help create an International Single Species Action Plan – a joined up approach to protecting migratory species, which span many countries and cultures.

Blackpool Zoo is one of two parks in the UK where visitors can see the scaly- sided merganser and there are just 14 of the species in the country. The zoo became home to a male and female in 2015, with two more set to arrive in the near future.

Across the rest of Europe, there are just 20 birds and in the wild numbers have dwindled to fewer than 2500.

It is thought to be the first time that a zoo has been invited to be in a project of this kind; there are only about a dozen International Single Species Action Plans in place and Blackpool Zoo will be named in it for the next decade.

JohnPaul, who is assistant head keeper at Blackpool Zoo and manages the European Studbook for the scaly-sided merganser, said: “I feel incredibly honored to have been invited to take part in this expedition.

“As part of my work on this project Blackpool Zoo will be named on the project for the next ten years, an involvement in which is exceptionally rare.

“The first three days will be spent with scientific and government officials from China, North Korea, Japan and Russia at the Institute for Biological Problems of the North (IBPN), in Vladivostok to discuss our approach to the conservation of this magnificent species.

“Following this we will transfer out to the field site, just out of Lazo in the Russian Far East and stay at the new scaly-sided merganser field station in Kishinevka village.

“Whilst there will conduct Wintering bird population surveys from boats in the Kievka river, and teach the new centre staff how to erect the artificial nesting sites for the mergansers, which include using CHEVY battery covers!

“I also plan to visit the Amur Leopard & Tiger Alliance (ALTA) project whilst I am in the area, so it really is going to be the trip of a lifetime for me!”

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