Parakeet breeding program ‘disaster’
Greg Roberts | January 11, 2008
PARROT experts say an aviary breeding program intended to save one of Australia’s rarest birds has ended in disaster, with the Norfolk Island parakeet teetering on the brink of extinction.
Some of the last surviving parakeets died after being caught for breeding in aviaries on Norfolk Island. While authorities claim the program was successful and that the wild parakeet population had ballooned to more than 200, experts believe the real figure could be fewer than 20.
The Norfolk Island parakeet is found only on the small Pacific island, an Australian territory.
A National Parks and Wildlife Service captive breeding program began in the 1980s after surveys put the population at between 16 and 30.
The plan was to hatch and raise young birds for release back into the wild, but no parakeets have been released. At the same time, at least 11 captive birds have died.
Leading parrot expert Joe Forshaw, who initiated the program but is now retired, said he was dismayed at its failure.
“They had no qualified aviculturalists working with this and that’s why it’s a disaster.” Dr Forshaw said that during a visit to the island last month, he conducted surveys for wild parrots. “I believe there are fewer birds now than in a 1978 census that we did,” he said.
“There are supposed to be more than 200 but there is nothing to support that. The surveys have not been done.” Dr Forshaw said the nestlings of some of the few surviving wild birds were suffering from a potentially fatal beak and feather disease.
Several of the birds that died in captivity were examined by New Zealand veterinarian Bryan Gartrell.
Dr Gartrell said he could not comment on the parakeet deaths because of professional obligations. However, he said parrots caught in the wild often died of diseases arising from bacterial and viral infections, and an incorrect diet was often a key factor.
Norfolk Island National Park manager Brooke Watson admitted an official wild parakeet population estimate of between 200 and 250 was not based on surveys.
“Maybe there are only 20 or 30 but we believe it is more,” Mr Watson said.
Six parakeets remain in captivity in the island’s Botanic Gardens, where their aviary is often visited by wild birds. Mr Watson said the park’s service was talking to Sydney’s Taronga Zoo about the prospects of reviving the program.