Keepers at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park in Devon have a new task on their to do list – taking a pair of crane chicks for a walk. The black crowned cranes, hatched on 16th September, are being hand reared and need daily exercise.

Paignton Zoo is home to a breeding pair of black crowned cranes; Dad, 14, and Mum, who’s 20, have failed to rear previous broods, so keepers decided to step in and raise these two themselves.

Senior Head Bird Keeper Peter Smallbones said:

We prefer youngsters to be parent reared, but we wanted to make sure they had the best possible chance of survival. They will be kept inside for the winter but they need sunlight and exercise, so the keepers take them outside every day.

The youngsters follow keeper Tom Tooley – although, because they are young and inquisitive, they do sometimes wander off.

We try to take them outside twice a day for up to half an hour at a time, depending on the weather,” says Tom.

“They need exercise so that their legs get strong and the sunlight is good for them, too.”

The black crowned crane (Balearica pavonina) is one of the world’s smaller crane species, and is one of only a few that nest in trees. An adult bird is about 1 metre (3 feet) tall, though it has a wingspan of nearly 2 metres – over 6 feet.

Like all cranes, the black crowned crane eats insects, reptiles, and small mammals. Their zoo diet includes special pellets with added nutrients, small pieces of chopped fruit and lettuce.

The species, classed as Vulnerable, is threatened by habitat loss and degradation. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.

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