Zoo expert to travel to save rare species

Johnpaul Houston at Blackpool Zoo holding a penguin chick he successfully hand-reared
Johnpaul Houston at Blackpool Zoo holding a penguin chick he successfully hand-reared
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A bird expert at Blackpool Zoo is about to embark on an international expedition to help protect one of the world’s rarest birds.

Zoo keeper Johnpaul Houston will be joining scientists from all over the world on the trip which aims to protect they rare scaly-sided merganser.

A rare scaly-sided merganser

A rare scaly-sided merganser

The expedition is the start of a 10-year project, which aims to create an International Single Species Action Plan – a joined up approach to protecting migratory species, which span many countries and cultures.

Johnpaul will travel to eastern Russia and the Lazovsky State Nature Reserve, which is also one of the last strongholds of the Amur tiger and the Amur leopard, as part of the project to protect the rarebirds breeding sites and wintering location.

He said: “I feel incredibly honoured to have been invited to take part in this expedition.

“As part of my work on this project Blackpool Zoo will be named on the project for the next 10 years, an involvement in which is exceptionally rare.”

I feel incredibly honoured to have been invited to take part in this expedition

Blackpool Zoo is one of two parks in the UK where visitors can see the scaly- sided merganser and there are just 14 in the country. The zoo became home to a male and female in 2015, with two more set to arrive soon. Across the rest of Europe, there are just 20 birds and in the wild numbers have dwindled to fewer than 2,500.

Johnpaul, who is assistant head keeper at Blackpool Zoo and manages the European Studbook for the scaly-sided merganser, said: “While in Russia we will conduct wintering bird population surveys from boats in the Kievka river, and teach the new centre staff how to erect the artificial nesting sites for the mergansers, which include using Chevy battery covers.”