Not All Birds are Endangered

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by Ray Ackroyd, Australia

How often do we pick up a newspaper or a magazine and read where large numbers of the world's birds are becoming threatened, rare and endangered and that their habitats are continually being depleted?
The problem with endangered species is that many people have a vested interest in them, for example:

Environmentalists use them to drum up support for conservation causes.
Bureaucrats use them to shuffle paperwork from department to department.
Scientists use them continually to obtain research funds for programs that seldom conclude.
Politicians holding so-called endangered animals do that to get free publicity.
The reality of it all is that nobody ever indicates that many species are in fact increasing to the point where they are not only abundant, but also super-abundant. Here in Australia we have some 57 species of native Psittaciforms and of those 57 species landholders or their employees can destroy some 22 species if those species are damaging agriculture or private property. Following field studies, licenses to destroy troublesome birds are issued by the relevant state wildlife authorities and needless to say licenses are not granted unless the species involved are in very large numbers.

Over the years I have found Australian farmers to be extremely environmentally responsible, but of course no farmer is going to allow his or her cropping to be subject to devastation by thousands of native Parrots and Cockatoos. No doubt some readers would be surprised to hear that very large numbers of Red - Tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus macrorhynehus) are destroyed while in conflict with rice and peanut production in Northern Australia.

Another example is South-west Western Australia where White-Tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus baudinii) are destroyed. Damage licenses are issued to primary producers if it can be demonstrated that these Cockatoos are causing damage. Over the past forty years and right up until the present time, growers protecting cropping have slaughtered thousands of Western Australia's White-Tailed Cockatoos. At the same time I would be quick to point out that it is a serious offence to take one of these birds from the wild for captive breeding purposes. The penalty for such an offence is A$4000.

For the past 30 years farmers in South Western Victoria have been plagued by very large numbers of Long-Billed Corellas. (Cacatua tenuirostris). Last year the Victorian state Wildlife Authorities had four teams trapping and gassing to death 17,000 of these troublesome birds. Damage to soft stone fruit production can also be very substantial in Australia. The Musk Lorikeet (Glossopsitta concinna) continues to inflict heavy losses to Orchardists. Another big pest to apple producers is the Red-Capped Parrot (Purpureicephalus spurius). These birds are shot under State Wildlife Licenses. The number of birds killed each year varies to the severity of the damage to fruit, but in some years over 10,000 Parrots and Lorikeets are shot in various fruit growing districts.

Greater Sulphur Crested Cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) and Galahs (Eolophus roseicapillus) are noted as serious pests and are a continuous threat to grain production. However Australia's most current widespread and serious pest bird is undoubtedly the Little Corolla (Cacatua sanguinea) and numbers continue to increase. Damage to trees and agriculture can be tremendous and numbers can build up into tens of thousands. The little Corella is also a problem to many other native wildlife species. In some areas it has become so super abundant that it drives all other species out of their habitat and nest stealing is commonplace. I have seen Little Corellas enter the nests of much larger species such as Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami) and aggressively kill half grown chicks, then take over the nesting hollow and drive the parent birds away from the area.

So the question is why are some of these Australian native species becoming so abundant. Firstly, there has been no approved management strategy put into place at all. Secondly it is reasonable to assume that since European Settlement in Australia some 200 years ago agricultural land has become increasingly widespread, resulting in ideal grain food sources and additional constant watering points. This has allowed many species to extend their range and find excellent breeding habitats.

Needless to say with the wide variety of food and reliable annual herbage on the ground most species regularly raise full clutches and that has resulted in a dramatic increase in populations. Again I would be quick to point out that this added food supply and extension of habitat has also benefited a lot of Australia's more threatened species particularly our Waterfowl and Waders.

Having said all that, International Aviculturalists may well say, "Why doesn't the Australian Government put into place a mechanism for an approved management program - particularly for their abundant Cockatoos and Parrots - and export them to international aviculture on a sustained yield harvest with limited strict quota systems to uphold market forces. Then at least some of the birds wouldn't have to he slaughtered." That's a reasonable question and quite frankly a question that has been raised for half a century.

So let us look at the facts. Australia imposed a total ban on overseas trade for Australian native birds in December 1959. We have to ask ourselves has that ban been in the best interest of those native birds and the answer is very simple, NO it hasn't! Time has taught us that total bans don't work and it's common knowledge that many of Australian's native birds have suffered because of that ban. Despite a number of favorable Commonwealth Government inquiries and recommendations into sustainable utilization and overseas trade of Australia's native birds, both wild and captive raised, arguments put forward by Government and non Government bodies have thwarted any attempt to relax the existing laws.

Again we have to ask ourselves, " Who are these non-government bodies that continually oppose any logical, practical and common sense legislation?"

Ultimately we find that the non-government bodies are the more radical elements within the conservation movement. These radical animal rights groups lack totally any form of field knowledge. They fail miserably to understand the basic principles of wildlife management and avicultural captive breeding programs. They tell deceitful lies and use blatant propaganda to project their own personal interests upon an uninformed general public to gain funds. Their objectives are based solely on emotion; they do not deal with ecological fact at all. Perhaps somebody should tell these radical groups that captive breeding by dedicated aviculturists is not a criminal activity.

Basically it is a very important gene pool of many species and the professionalism of modem day aviculture ensures the future destiny of those species. In fact one can go further than that, by saying "Captive breeding is an insurance policy against future species extinctions." Generally I have found aviculturists to be a very responsible group of people and the time has come when bird breeders around the world should hit back at these radical 'do-gooders' and put them in their place once and for all. Meanwhile Australia's super abundant psittacines continue to increase in number and sadly there is a need at times to drastically reduce those numbers.

Field scientist support humane culling by stating, "The only way to have healthy populations of abundant species and their habitats is to have population reduction programs". My fifty years in the Australian bush as a Government licensed trapper supports that philosophy. However all that being said it will be a long time before Australia's major abundant psittacines can be classified as being vulnerable, rare, threatened or endangered.

AKJ 2018 - a passionate and thought-provoking article from one of our longest-standing recipients of conservation support. Ray poses questions that are often asked by cockatoo enthusiasts in western Europe, who find these birds rare and expensive.

We will be pleased to receive further articles and information of interest to add to our Web Site or for publication in our Magazine.

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