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First Malagasy Sacred Ibis Chick in the Continent Hatches at Houston Zoo

It’s a continental first! Houston Zoo is excited to welcome its first ever Malagasy sacred ibis chick. This marks the first time the endangered species has successfully hatched in a North American zoo. During a recent visit to Houston Zoo, Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, the Zoo’s conservation partner from Madagascar, was given the honor of naming the female chick. Dr. Jonah chose the name Vorotsara (pronounced VURU-CHARA), which means “beautiful bird” in Malagasy.

Bird Supervisors Kelly and Brent pictured with Dr. Jonah.

During breeding season, the Zoo’s dedicated animal care team monitored the flock of birds and observed the eggs were not being properly incubated. The team decided to pull this particular egg and artificially incubate it with the plan of returning it to its parents. When the parents abandoned the nest, the team stepped in to hand-rear it. The chick hatched September 3 and strict measures were implemented in hand-rearing the chick including creating a quiet zone to disassociate the bird from human voices, face-coverings when interacting with the bird and a crocheted stuffed ibis was placed with the chick. The goal is to safely integrate Vorotsara into the flock.

The chick being fed at just two days old.

With an estimated world population of 2,300 to 3,000 Malagasy sacred ibis birds left, this species was highlighted as having a high conservation need by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Houston Zoo is one of the five Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited Zoos in North America to receive a breeding flock from Germany. The name “sacred” comes from the Ancient Egyptian association of this bird with Thoth, their god of wisdom and truth. The Malagasy sacred ibis is a large white bird with fluffy black feathers across the rump and a black head. They have blue eyes, stand two to three feet tall with a wingspan of three to four feet wide.

The chick being weighed on the scale at 12 days old.

The Malagasy sacred ibis is only found in Madagascar and a few islands in the Seychelles. Due to their very limited range, habitat loss and ease of poaching, this species is considered endangered. Guests can help save birds in the wild, like the Malagasy sacred ibis, by drinking Bird Friendly® Certified coffee. Bird Friendly coffees are grown in a way that provides shelter and a variety of foods for birds and other wildlife.