Endangered birds travel from Werribee to new home at Monarto

One of the six captive-bred Plains-wanderer birds which has arrived at Monarto Safari Park from Victoria's Werribee Open Range Zoo. Photo: Zoos SA.
One of the six captive-bred Plains-wanderer birds which has arrived at Monarto Safari Park from Victoria's Werribee Open Range Zoo. Photo: Zoos SA.

Six critically endangered Plains-wanderer birds have successfully completed a quarantine period at Monarto Safari Park after their big trip from Werribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria.

The birds are listed in first position among Australian birds in the Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) list of species with a significant amount of unique evolutionary history that face extinction.

These six captive-bred birds are genetically unique, so they have moved to Monarto to be part of a nation-wide conservation breeding program to try and build a population to stop them from going extinct.

Zoos SA conservation manager Liberty Olds said they are trying to bring more birds to stay at the new purpose-built facility. at Monarto.

"The Plains-wanderer is an ancient and uniquely classified species and the only member of the Pedionomidae family," Dr Olds said.

"Considering its evolutionary distinctiveness it is definitely one Australian bird species that we can least afford to lose."

National Threatened Species Day is September 7, and Dr Olds said it was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of species like the Plains-wanderer whose existence is under threat.

"It is also an opportunity to celebrate the conservation work that is taking place, such as the Plains Wanderer conservation breeding program," she said.

"At present there are thought to be less than 1000 adult birds remaining in the wild.

"Without conservation breeding programs like this, the future for the Plains-wanderer would be bleak."

The conservation program is the result of a partnership between Zoos SA, Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Zoos Victoria, and Featherdale Wildlife Park, plus South Australian, New South Wales and Victorian state governments.

It is one of the key strategies of the National Recovery Plan, which will see the eventual reintroduction of captive-bred birds into wild populations and assist with the recovery of the species.

"Funding for the development and construction of the purpose-built facilities at Monarto Wildlife Park was provided through the NSW Governments Saving our Species program," Dr Olds said.

NSW Senior Threatened Species Officer and National Plains-wanderer Recovery Program chair David Parker said the move to Monarto was a "significant milestone" in the program.

"After the positive successes of the captive breeding program to date, which has seen the successful breeding of the species at Taronga's Sydney and Western Plains Zoo's as well as the Werribee Open Range Zoo, the transfer of six captive-bred Plains-wanderer to Monarto Safari Park's brand new Plains-wanderer facility sees another significant milestone in the Plains-wanderer conservation program being reached," he said.

The Plains-wanderer, Pedionomus torquatus, is most similar to a small quail.

A female can breed all year round, laying two to five eggs with two to four chicks most commonly hatched.

Once her eggs are laid, the female 'wanders off' to mate again while the male raise the chicks, who stay with him until they are about two months old.

Once commonly found in grassy areas stretching as far as from South Queensland to South Australia, the Plains-wanderer has rapidly fallen victim to the clearing of their preferred native grassland habitat, persistent drought and overgrazing particularly during drought times.

National Threatened Species Day, held September 7 each year, is a chance to educate people about Australia's native plants and animals at risk of extinction.

It is believed more than 100 native plants and animals have become extinct over the last 200 years, and there are thousands of others at the risk of extinction.

National Threatened Species aims to highlight species under threat, to raise awareness of how people can best protect these and other species in the future, and to celebrate the conservation efforts in place across the country.

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