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Rats Kill Rare Orange-Bellied Parrots In Tasmanian Breeding Facility

Jan 05, 2016 06:54 PM EST
Orange-Bellied Parrot
14 orange-bellied parrots were recently killed by rats at a captive breeding facility in Tasmania.
(Photo : Flickr: Ron Knight)

Critically endangered orange-bellied parrots housed at a captive breeding facility in Tasmania have suffered another attack. A pack of rats recently made their way through the "very old" floors and walls of the facility's buildings in Taroona, killing 14 of the birds. These parrots are part of a national recovery program working to replenish the species' dwindling population.

Experts say there are fewer than 70 orange-bellied parrots left in the wild - a population triggering their current listing. However, the Taroona facility houses roughly 160 parrots, which is about half of the birds' total captive population.

The orange-bellied parrot is a small, brightly colored parrot native to Australia. Although the birds have yellow-to-green feathers covering most of their body, they are characterized by a bright blue band on their forehead and an orange patch on their belly.

Several of these birds living at the facility had been moved to an older enclosure for quarantine, following a recent outbreak of beak and feather disease. The latest incident, however, follows a series of attacks last year and brings to question whether these birds are being kept safe. 

"For over 30 years we've never had a death by rats in those facilities. I find it quite bizarre that that could happen in such a short period of time," Mark Holdsworth, a wildlife biologist and former leader of the orange-bellied parrot national recovery team, said. "But they [rats] are manageable, so you keep on top of it with proper poisoning regimes or trapping if necessary. In this case, I don't think people have been observant enough or didn't have the enough skills to understand how to do this."

Although this loss is significant, Howel Williams from Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) said it won't have an impact on this year's breeding program, or longer-term operations. Nonetheless, parrots are being removed from the older unit to prevent further deaths.

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