Seeking Mr Right

We all know how enthusiastic the government can be when it comes to matchmaking the people of Singapore… now, even the birds are involved… (albeit not by the government)


March 23, 2009

Wild hornbill seeks Mr Right

By Grace Chua

WANTED: A mate for Singapore’s only wild rhinoceros hornbill living in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

The female already has possible suitors from among captive males, but they may belong to any of three sub-species of this endangered bird and not be an exact genetic match.

Preserving the sub-species is vital as each is uniquely suited to its environment. Allowing them to cross-breed may produce less hardy hybrids.

Wildlife photographer and field researcher Marc Cremades said: ‘We are trying to provide a boyfriend for the lady, and have them breed, and then provide some friends for the babies.’

The striking bird, with its orange-and-white beak and casque, was first sighted in Singapore four years ago.

Its search for love has been bumpy. Last year, researchers – who aim to reintroduce the rhinoceros hornbill sub-species here – decided the bird needed help.

Mr Cremades and his comrade for this mission, gynaecologist and amateur naturalist Ng Soon Chye, front the Singapore Hornbill Project, which has teamed up with the National Parks Board, Jurong BirdPark, National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Nature Society.

Last month, NUS and NTU researchers captured the bird from the nature reserve, and compared its DNA to that of rhinoceros hornbills from the birdpark and from an aviary in Bali. This DNA typing reveals the sub-species, which differ slightly in colour and plumage.

A single male rhinoceros hornbill, now stationed in an aviary at the nature reserve, will undergo DNA testing.

If the test confirms he is Mr Right, he will be released into the wild, so the female hornbill will be lonely no longer.

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March 2009