At-risk rhea birds released into Patagonia wild

Conservationists in Chile are working to re-populate the native rhea bird

into its Patagonia region

(SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) DIRECTOR OF THE REWILDING PROGRAMME AT TOMPKINS CONSERVATION, CRISTIAN SAUCEDO, SAYING: "This has been a gradual increase in the species. From here we started with a population of at least 20 individuals and today census results show close to 70 individuals. The goal is to get to 100 individual adults in the wild. With that number, we estimate that the population will be able to sustain itself over time."

The birds were brought to near extinction locally

as a result of illegal hunting

(SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF TOMPKINS CONSERVATION, CAROLINA MORGADO, SAYING: "They (rhea) are in a very precarious conservation category, in danger of extinction. In Aysen (region) there are only two valleys where the rheas live and they are very important to the well-being of the Patagonian steppe because they act like distributors of seeds. They have an important role in the entire ecosystem of the Patagonian steppe."

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