Scientists say they have hand-raised an extremely rare blue-eyed pigeon in Brazil. There are probably only 15 specimens of the bird species left in the wild worldwide, which makes the pigeon species one of the rarest animals on earth, said the British Chester Zoo.

Together with Brazilian and US colleagues, the researchers removed an egg in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais with the consent of the authorities and fed the chick extensively after it hatched. “The efforts paid off and the chick is only the third of its kind ever raised in human care,” the statement said.

Species have hardly been researched

According to Chester Zoo, blue-eyed pigeons are considered a barely researched species. There have been no confirmed records for more than 70 years, and the animals were only rediscovered in 2015. The habitat is the Cerrado, as the wet savannahs in southeastern Brazil are called. However, the most important water source for most regions of the South American country is threatened by livestock grazing and crop cultivation.

“The Blue-eyed Pigeon is one of the rarest animals on earth and it is a real privilege for Chester Zoo to be part of the effort to save a species as rare and valuable as this one,” said the zoo’s head of birds, Andrew Owen. “The fact is we have to do something. Otherwise we will have to stand by and watch these beautiful birds go extinct. We refuse to let this happen without a fight.”

In 2023, the international research team raised two of the pigeons – brother and sister – by hand for the first time. To complement the rescue efforts, two eggs were reportedly removed from the nest of a second pair this year. There was a license for this from the responsible Brazilian authority, Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade. One egg contained a stillborn embryo. “But fortunately the other egg was fertilized and a healthy chick hatched,” the zoo said.

Diet like crop milk

The team fed the animal a diet modeled after the so-called crop milk that adult pigeons regurgitate for their young. The chick grew quickly and, together with the first two chicks, should now form the core of a population in human care, with the help of which the species can be protected from extinction in captivity if necessary.

Since there are only a few specimens in the wild, only a few eggs can be removed each year, it said. “But the team hopes to repeat their success and gradually establish breeding pairs in safe aviaries to produce chicks that can boost the wild population and reduce the risk of extinction.”