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Rare Dalmatian Pelicans Hatch at San Diego Zoo

Mar 19, 2015 11:46 AM EDT

A pair of rare Dalmatian pelican chicks recently hatched at the San Diego Zoo, and will be cared for by zoo staff until they are well enough to rejoin their flock.

The newbies, aged two and 11 days old, were taken to the San Diego Zoo Avian Propagation Center after it was determined that their parents were unable to raise them for unknown reasons.

For now, these not-so-adorable chicks will be hand-raised by animal care staff from the Avian Propagation Center for about two months, wrote the San Diego Zoo blog. That is, until they are strong enough to return to their flock at the zoo's Safari Park.

And for Dalmatian pelicans, that may come sooner than later. These birds are known to grow fast, and in just a few weeks will ditch their ugly, bald, wrinkly look for beautiful plush downy feathers instead. They'll be fully grown in about 6 to 7 months.

Dalmatian pelicans are not only the rarest of all pelicans, but also the largest. As adults, they can reach about 6 feet in length with a wingspan of nearly 12 feet, and weigh a whopping 30 pounds or more. (Scroll to read on...)

Dalmatian pelicans used to be found throughout Asia and Europe in rivers and freshwater wetlands, but have gone extinct in some areas due to habitat loss. Their numbers largely declined during the 19th and 20th centuries, according to Birdlife International, and are still falling. Their population size worldwide is currently an estimated 6,700-9,300 individuals.

However, they still remain threatened by a variety of factors, including continued habitat loss, interfering with the breeding and raising of young Dalmatian pelicans, and competition with commercial enterprises for fish, their primary food source.

At other times, Dalmatian pelicans have been hunted for food, while their bills are prized by herders and used for combing horses.

The species is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, but thanks to the zoo's North American breeding program, these latest hatchlings bring the total number of chicks born to 34. Owing to the success of the program, some Dalmatian pelicans have been sent to the Phoenix Zoo where another breeding colony is being set up.

Through these and other conservation efforts, Dalmatian pelicans hopefully will thrive once again.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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