Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ubin ostrich saved from chopping block

100kg pet bird escapes poultry cull with offer of new home at bird park
By Chang Ai-Lien.
The Straits Times.

FOR a while, its fate hung in the balance, but now the heftiest member of Pulau Ubin's poultry family has been given a last-minute reprieve from the chopping block.

The ostrich, reared by the headman's son, will be adopted by Jurong BirdPark, along with two peacocks.

'The bird has grown so big, it's good if it goes to a good home where it can get proper care,' said owner Lim Choo Zi, 78, in Mandarin.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) recently banned all poultry on Ubin, including the ostrich, as part of ongoing efforts to keep the deadly bird flu out of Singapore.

On Tuesday, Mr Lim's handful of remaining chickens were rounded up and taken away for slaughter. The same day, the AVA and Poultry Merchants' Association bought most of
Ubin's remaining poultry - what was left of 300 chickens, ducks and geese - before the ban takes effect tomorrow.

Mr Lim has been caring for the male ostrich for a year, since his wife was given the half-grown bird by a friend.

'I had no idea it would grow so big,' he said, pointing at the bird, which is now 2m tall and eats 7kg of chicken feed and two coconuts a day.

AVA's assistant director of corporate communications Goh Shih Yong started the life-saving action when the deadline for the ostrich's removal was pending.

'This was a family pet and it would have been a pity to put it down, so I decided to ask Jurong BirdPark for help,' he said.

Mr Lim said the ostrich, which weighs about 100kg, is tame. Even so, moving it to the main island will be quite a task. Since it tends to follow Mr Lim around, he will lure it into a specially constructed box, before it is sent across by boat.

The AVA will also work with the park to make sure the ostrich is healthy and disease-free. It will be quarantined for a month before being introduced to the other ostriches there.

Dr Wong Hon Mun, executive director of Jurong BirdPark, said the ostrich will join the park's existing group of three females and one male.

'This is part of our bird conservation programme. As far as possible we want to preserve exotic birds, and ostriches are a rare sight here.'

Including those at the zoo, there are fewer than 10 ostriches - the world's biggest bird - here.

And it is hoped the new addition will be a father soon.

The park's male bird, which is at least 20 years old, has not helped expand the family for several years and eggs produced have not been fertile, said Dr Wong.

'We hope that the young male, which we're calling Ubin, will do what the older one can't seem to, and help to introduce some new bloodlines into our ostriches.'

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