Franco is a young red-necked ostrich about six months old, the only one that successfully survived out of four ostrich eggs that hatched this year in the Hai Bar Nature Reserve in Yotvata, managed by the Nature and Parks Authority.
Almost every day, inspectors and caretakers of the Hai Bar Nature Reserve meet him in the areas of the reserve and are excited to see his independent integration with the other ostriches and wild animals roaming the area.
Franco's story is particularly exciting since his hatching occurred in an artificial hatchery for wild animals, which gives hope to the joint recovery efforts of the species that the Nature and Parks Authority is promoting, together with the corresponding agencies in the country of Senegal, after this species went all but entirely extinct in the wild.
An artificial hatchery for ostrich eggs
The joint project with Senegal began in recent years under the leadership of Roni Malka, a retiree of the Nature and Parks Authority and former director of the Authority's enforcement division. It came after DNA tests revealed that the ostriches in the Hai Bar Nature Reserve are almost identical to the subspecies that lives in Senegal.
The North African ostrich (Struthio c. Camelus) is one of four extant subspecies of ostrich. This race of ostrich once inhabited the entire periphery of the Sahara both north and south but is now facing a rapid ongoing decline over the past 50 years due to hunting for feathers and food, collection of their eggs and the loss of their habitat.
With the launch of the international cooperation to save the species, an artificial hatchery for the ostrich eggs was established in the wildlife reserve, with the aim to create a significant local breeding nucleus and support Senegal to establish one of its own, based on ostrich eggs from Israel. This is meant to, among other things, enable Senegal to also return them to the wild in suitable reserves on its territory and thereby recover their population, which is in danger of extinction.
In the Hai Bar Nature Reserve about 30 red-necked ostriches have been bred and the survival and fertility of the ostrich eggs in the wild are generally not high. Therefore, a number of eggs that have been transferred so far from Israel to Senegal in a controlled manner have mostly not hatched successfully. Meanwhile, the challenge is how eggs hatched in an artificial hatchery can integrate into nature.
However, the story of Franco, who did hatch, gives hope for recovery efforts. Franco hatched in June 2022 after 40 days in the hatchery.
He was raised under the strict supervision of the caretakers of the reserve until he was six months old, in a protected area of the reserve to keep him from predators until he grew and got stronger. At the end of the year, after he had grown a bit, he was moved to the more open area in the reserve where he first met his own kind and the other wild animals living in the reserve.
Franco's early life in the Nature Reserve
In the first few days, it seemed that he had difficulty adjusting and did not receive a particularly warm welcome from the other wild animals. The wildlife team followed him closely, making sure he was managing the food successfully and even helping him out with food in a supervised manner. About a week later he seemed to have found his place and found his food on his own and was doing well.
By the way, it should be noted that it is not yet known whether Franco is male or female since he has not yet been tested for sex. In a few months, based on his feathers it will be possible to discover his gender. If he has black feathers with white touches, it will be possible to determine that his species is male. If he will grow gray feathers, the crew will probably have to get used to the fact that Franco is actually a female.
In any case, the reintroduction in the open field can probably already testify to the possibility of success for the return to the wild both in Israel and in Senegal of eggs raised in an artificial hatchery. Let's hope that the species will not become extinct in Senegal and the world in general.