Zoo Keepers at Drusillas Park, East Sussex, have been giving swimming lessons to their baby duckling. The critically endangered laysan teal duckling was rejected by its mother and is now being lovingly hand-reared by Keepers at the Park.
The little fluff ball has been living in the incubator on Drusillas farm for the past few weeks, surrounded by lots of teddies and soft toys to keep it company. Keepers do not yet know the sex of the duckling as it is too early on to tell. However, as soon as the little one is old enough they will be pooling some inventive name suggestions!
Deputy Head Keeper, Sophie Leadbitter, said: “Sadly our beautiful duckling was rejected by its mother so we have stepped into the parental role and cared for it as its mother would. I have a feeling the duckling is going to turn out to be female, as you can see some female colouration coming through in the feathers.”
“Part of our duty as surrogate parents is to teach our duckling to swim! We have been slowly introducing it to water and getting the little one used to splashing its legs around. Learning to swim is important anyway, but given the intense heat we have had this week, a pool is the perfect place for a duckling to cool down.”
In the wild, ducklings would instinctively copy their mother when jumping into water and swimming. But Drusillas’ orphan hasn’t had anyone to copy, so was a little hesitant at first.
Deputy Head Keeper, Sophie Leadbitter, said: “We had a little hesitation at the start, a sort of initial freak out at suddenly having wet feet! But we got over that hurdle very quickly, and after a couple of attempts and a little guidance, the duckling was diving down and swimming around with no problem at all. I felt really quite proud!”
Drusillas offers a home to a number of threatened species, but the laysan teal duck is the most endangered species housed at the Park; there are now less than 1000 of these birds living in the wild.
Laysan teal are small ducks, covered in red-brown and dark brown feathers with a green-blue patch on the wing, a white eye ring and orange legs. This critically endangered species is only found around Laysan Island and Midway Atoll in Hawaii.
As the ducks live on such tiny islands they are exceptionally vulnerable to hurricanes, droughts and lack of food. Additionally, the increasing number of introduced plants and animals has also contributed to their threat of extinction.
Deputy Head Keeper, Sophie Leadbitter, said: “We can’t tell you how thrilled we are that our ducks are breeding and helping us to keep up population numbers. It would be terrible to lose such a wonderful species, and we are proud to be playing our part in protecting them from extinction.”
“It has been wonderful to watch our little duckling grow up. I’m so pleased with how quickly it has learnt to swim; this certainly bodes well for when we release it out into a larger enclosure with other animals. I would definitely say our swimming lessons have been a success!”
Located just off the A27 in Alfriston, Drusillas Park is open daily from 10am. For more information please telephone 01323 874100 or visit www.drusillas.co.uk