Don seeking funds to study unique bird

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 03 Apr 2004


PENANG: A Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) professor hopes to trace the 16,000km trail of the polar tern (from the gull family), the only known bird species to migrate between the Arctic and Antarctica each year. 

School of Biological Sciences dean Professor Mashhor Mansor said he wanted to study the bird’s habitats along its flight path from the Arctic islands, North America, Mexico, South America and onwards to the Antarctic coast. 

MAKING A POINT: Prof Mashhor presenting his keynote address at the Second Life Sciences Postgraduate Conference in USM in Penang.

“Equipped with strong wings, this bird of Arctic origin is a biological wonder which depends on hot air currents to fly long distances. 

“Like a weatherman, it seems to be able to read the weather and its changes by knowing just the right time to fly,” he said in an interview at the Second Life Sciences Postgraduate Conference in USM.  

The three-day conference, which ends today, features over 100 papers by some 50 researchers from Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.  

Prof Mashhor said during the winter period in the northern hemisphere, the bird would start flying in groups from the Arctic towards the Antarctica which would be experiencing summer. 

He said the bird was a biological indicator as it knew the best areas to nest and feed during the three-month journey where its main “airports” or nests were at lake areas.  

“Thus, if these lakes are not well conserved, the world will soon lose this unique bird species,” Prof Mashhor said, adding that he would meet with several scientists from Norway, Germany and Finland next month to gather more information. 

He said he would soon start sourcing funds for the research, which he hoped to kick off within the next two years. 

Last year, Prof Mashhor embarked on a month-long expedition to Antarctica to study its ecosystem with special focus on bird-droppings. 

He joined 20 scientists and 20 military commandos, mostly Argentineans, on board the icebreaker Almirante Iriza,r which stopped at nine Argentinean research stations on the western coast of the white continent.  

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