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Bimbi gets a helping hand - and a work out

Bimbi the brolga gets a helping hand - and a work out

Bimbimbie the brolga, a leggy Australian crane, weighed in at just 113gm on hatching at Auckland Zoo two weeks ago.

The newborn (whose sex is yet to be determined) has been putting on weight nicely - and as nature would have it, has more than tripled in size!

But that healthy growth spurt’s been given a special helping hand from Auckland Zoo’s exotic bird keepers-turned puppeteers, who with a brolga lookalike hand puppet, have helped guide Bimbi to feed.

Bimbi (whose full aboriginal name means ‘place of many birds’) is being hand-reared this way to enable mum and dad to lay a second clutch of eggs this season. Made by one of Auckland Zoo’s keepers, the hand puppet minimises human imprinting on the bird, and it is working a treat.

Now keepers are playing fitness instructors as well, and taking turns to don a grey sheet with the hand puppet, to disguise themselves as a brolga to help Bimbi ‘work out’ to ensure her leg muscles develop as they should. As newborn brolgas put on weight very quickly, it is critical they develop good strong legs in time to prevent too much pressure being put on their joints. (A chick raised by its parents would naturally follow mum and dad around as they search for food, and get exercise this way).

So it’s out of the temperature controlled brooder room twice a day for a good strenuous power walk in a grassed area of the Zoo. The fitness programme will continue for the next few weeks while Bimbi remains in a rearing pen in the brooder room.

Bimbi, who currently has a fluffy velvety grey down, will be fully grown at 14 weeks (early November), and by this time will have developed pin feathers to enable feather sexing. A fully-grown adult is grey with a tomato-red face.

“We’re really hoping Bimbi’s a girl as Singapore Zoo are very keen to receive a female along with two of our adult males, which we are planning to send to them later this year,” says Auckland Zoo life sciences manager Glen Holland.

If Bimbi’s parents produce a successful clutch of eggs again this season (average is 2), they will be left to raise the chicks themselves.

The brolga is the Australian species of crane, and is found in Queensland and other parts of Northern Australia, and Southern New Guinea, usually near estuaries, or in fields where water is nearby.

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