Can emergency interventions save the Orange-bellied Parrot from extinction?

Posted on Posted in Endangered species, feathered, South Australia, South coast, Tasmania, Victoria

By this time of year most of us have started winding down, cheerfully enjoying the season’s rumball-fuelled fripperies. Meanwhile, in a remote pocket of south-west Tasmania, a project is underway to try and mitigate a conservation crisis. And the stakes couldn’t be higher; the very existence of a spectacular Australian bird hangs in the balance.

Those of you with an interest in Australian wildlife have no doubt heard about the struggles of the Orange-bellied Parrot. Orange-bellied Parrots (OBPs) hold the terrible title of ‘Australia’s most threatened bird’, critically endangered, perilously close to extinction in the wild.

A female Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) . By JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A female Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) . By JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Their decline has spanned decades. During this time research has aimed to learn more about the OBPs, including the risks they face in the hope of protecting critical habitats and improving their plight. As the OBP population continued to decline, captive bred populations were established, and although many captive birds have been released into the wild these reintroductions have largely failed.

Around November each year, every OBP migrates from the southern coast of the mainland to Melaleuca, in the rugged south-west corner of Tasmania.  This year the news was shocking. Only 3 wild females and 11 wild males turned up. Those monitoring this species called a state of emergency. Critical intervention was urgently needed to save this species from being completely wiped out.

There was no time to delay, scientists needed to get into this incredibly remote corner of Tasmania and somehow ensure as many OBP nestlings as possible are bred in the 2016/2017 season. Some of the possible interventions include taking fertile eggs that have come from the captive bred OBPs and adding them to wild nests, swapping fertile captive eggs with infertile wild eggs, taking abandoned wild eggs and incubating them and then once hatched, hand-rearing nestlings or providing supplementary food where necessary.

But of course all of these interventions cost money. So to mobilise funds as quickly as possible, a pozible crowdfunding campaign was launched. This turned out to be highly successful, raising more than $140k, over double the initial target!

While there is no guarantee that these emergency measures will work, the general public have spoken: we are not giving up on the OBPs.

Update from the field: An additional 2 OBPs made the journey to Tasmania bumping the total up to 16. Scientists are on the ground at Melaleuca and have found 12 nests so far. Their tireless work continues…

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For up-to-the-minute info on the OBPs follow these twitter accounts @teamswiftparrot @neophema1 @neophema99

The efforts to rescue the OBP are a collaboration between the Difficult Bird Research Group at ANU, the Friends of the OBP (Wildcare Inc), the Tasmanian Government, National OBP recovery team and Commonwealth.

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