Mystery of relict seagull

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In the mid 60-ies of the last century, the world ornithological community got excited by the news flown from the Lake Alakol. Ernar Auezov (son of the great writer) found on the lake a seagull, which was considered extinct for decades. Furor in the science was huge, the authorities of Kazakh SSR had to declare territory of the islands a reserve in 1971.

On the basis of the reserve, a national park with the intriguing name - "Relict Seagull" was opened later. However, this "news" did not bring anything new for Alakol, it just was quietly waiting in the wings on these desert shores, quietly existing here since the olden days, when domestic inland "seas" of Central Asia were covering a vaster space.

The single skin that was obtained by the Swede Sven Hedin, tireless explorer of Inner Asia, in 1929 in Mongolia, was getting dusty in a backlog of Stockholm museum and researchers considered it a zoological curiosity, random hybrid that existed in a single exemplar.

And then, suddenly, on the islands of Alakol a whole colony of relict seagulls was found.  The birds were arriving there with the onset of heat from somewhere to breed. This newly discovered bird was called “relict seagull” thanks to the tradition of Swedish ornithologists; almost simultaneously it was discovered in the Chita region and then in other places in the depths of Asia (although in a very limited quantities).

Specificity of relict seagulls settling strengthened the scientists in the idea that they are dealing with the last of the species that were widespread once on the water reservoirs, existed in prehistoric times, in the depths of the vast Earth continent. And it turned out that seagulls were coming from fraternal Vietnam. 

However, from the standpoint of a layman, relict seagull was hardly able to shake the imagination as much as any New Zealand echidna or Komodo dragon. Actually, a layman will not be able to distinguish it from its conventional lake cousin. But science has its own criteria and grading values.

However, it is a paradox, that other birds living on the protected islands are using the fruits of fame of this black-headed seagull, while this bird itself had disappeared again from Alakol in scientists’ presence. Without giving a reason. It just stopped returning from tropical countries and breed on our islands. But it would seem that here all conditions were created. During the recent years, only some birds have been seen on Alakol. Wayward relic.

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