Sudden death of 14 critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrots at the Taroona breeding facility. Cause? Rats.

January 5th, 2016 | by LubosTomiska
Sudden death of 14 critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrots at the Taroona breeding facility. Cause? Rats.
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Almost 10% of all Orange-bellied Parrots living in captivity at Taroona breeding facility have been killed by rats. This species is currently one of the most endangered parrots in the world with less than 70 individuals still left in the wild. According to representatives of Taroona management, killed birds were isolated in older unused aviaries because were probably infected by Parrot Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD).

There are about 160 Orange-bellied Parrots (OBP) kept at the Taroona breeding facility and in total the captive population counts over 310 birds at this moment. According to Howel Williams from Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE), this loss won’t affect survival of OBP in the captivity because killed birds were infected anyway.

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All captive birds are spread around six facilities – Taroona, Healesville Sanctuary, Adelaide Zoo, Priam Australia and Moonlit Sanctuary. The killed individuals were separated from the rest of group at the end of October.

“And then in one weekend, in early December, several birds were taken and at that point, even though we’ve always had a vermin control program, we realised that we had a problem that we weren’t dealing with and brought in a vermin controller,” Mr Williams said for ABC news.

“Basically it’s a very old facility, and the floor and possibly the walls just don’t have the integrity that they should do,” he added. After this incident, appropriate management responses have been taken.

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Taroona enclosure ex employee criticizes incompetence of the management

A former employee of DPIPWE Mark Holdsworth, who had to leave his position at Taroona breeding facility two years ago, commented this situation on official Facebook page of association „Save the Orange-bellied Parrots“. According to his statement, no Orange-bellied Parrot has been attacked by rats during the last 30 years at the Taroona facilities.

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“I find it quite bizarre that that could happen in such a short period of time,” he said.

“They lack the skills, ability and resources to have the management that we would have done (before the reorganisation),’’ he added.

Howel Wiliams opposes Holdsworth. He said that resources were increasing. In the last year, Federal government guaranteed funding of Orange-bellied Parrot project for the next three-years. The recovery program was immediately supported by 525 000 AUD. The money should be used to fight against predators at the only nesting site of this species on Tasmania and also to support the breeding of the insurance captive population.

Threatened species commissioner Gregory Andrews from the Department of Environment explained exclusively for ParrotsDailyNews that appropriate rodent management responses have now been taken.

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Commissioner: Orange-bellied Parrots will not go extinct because of rats

„The affected birds were quarantined in a normally unused older facility to minimise risks of the beak and feather disease outbreak on the breeding population which would have much more significant impact if not managed appropriately.  The reason the older facility needed to be used was due to the recent success of the captive breeding program which meant other holding facilities were all full,“ explained Mr Andrews to ParrotsDailyNews.

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Orange bellied parrots in an aviary

(c) DPIPWE

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As he added, some risk always exists when keeping birds in captivity. „All captive breeding and release programmes come with risks – the orange-bellied parrots at Healesville in Victoria, for example, were recently affected by an outbreak of suspected food poisoning which killed 13 birds, despite high quality care and risk management actions taken there.“

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Andrews is not afraid that sudden death of 14 individuals would affect captive population decline which would lead to extinction of this species. „There is no significant extinction risk from this incident nor is there to the captive breeding and release programme for 2016 given that there are over 350 captive birds at multiple sites across Australia and a wild population of 34 at Melaleuca.“

On the other side, association Save the Orange-bellied Parrots consider this incident to be result of „systemic problems in Tasmanian management of captive OBPs“ and ask the public to urge the Tasmanian government.

 Title photo: (c) JJ Harrison. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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