Captive breeding efforts to save the Critically Endangered Orange-bellied Parrot Neophema chrysogaster - Australia’s rarest bird with perhaps as few as 50 individuals in the wild - have suffered a major setback.
Fourteen Orange-bellied Parrots were killed by rats during late 2015 at the Taroona (Hobart) captive-breeding facility, which is run by Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.
The affected birds were being held separately in quarantine from the main breeding stock, as they were suffering from Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD). Following the killing of two parrots during October and November, in early December a more serious incident led to the death of the remaining birds. (In May 2013 two Orange-bellied Parrots in the same facility were killed by a cat that breached the perimeter fence.)
The Australian Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, labelled the latest incident as "deeply disturbing", prompting Matthew Groom, Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage for Tasmania to defend his government department: "The deaths of birds within the captive population has been taken seriously by the Tasmanian Government.” He stated that he has been assured that since the incident security standards at Taroona have been significantly enhanced.
Paul Sullivan, Chief Executive of BirdLife Australia commented: "These incidents clearly show the danger of allowing wild bird populations to decline until they rely on captive insurance programs. It’s tragic to lose any Orange-bellied Parrots; we need to learn from the incident and pull together to keep this bird from going extinct."