8th May 2008
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It’s Spring Fever for released Regent Honeyeaters (26 Sep 2008)
Update From The Field (6 June 2008)
Regent Honeyeater breeding program soars (8 May 2008)
With only an estimated 1500 Regent Honeyeaters left in the wild, the release of twenty eight birds from a successful regional breeding program is well timed.
Taronga Zoo in partnership with wildlife agencies manages a vital breed-for-release program for this endangered species.
The small black and yellow honeyeaters have been rapidly disappearing from their native habitat along the Box and Ironbark forests of the Great Dividing Range at an alarming rate.
The decline is due to loss of habitat with up to 85% of their woodland home being lost to land clearing for agricultural purposes. This has led to fragmented populations, resulting in the local extinction of the Regent Honeyeater in South Australia and isolation of the remaining small population groups in Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
A National Recovery Program has been established and managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Parks Victoria to protect this endangered native species from possible extinction. In the past decade the Recovery Program has become a large-scale project involving habitat restoration, wild population monitoring and a captive breeding program operating at Taronga Zoo since 1995.
The first Regent Honeyeaters arrived at Taronga Zoo in September 1995 after keepers collected 10 unrelated chicks from two of the last remaining populations in the wild located at Capertee Valley NSW and Chiltern, Victoria. These newly hatched chicks were successfully hand-raised by keepers and became the original founders of a highly successful breeding program that has since expanded from Taronga Zoo to many other Australian zoos including Adelaide, Melbourne and the Australian Reptile Park, NSW.
Together, these institutions have undertaken a large-scale breeding program which in this last breeding season has produced enough offspring to allow a group of 28 birds to be released into the wild.
Taronga's Australian Fauna Precinct Manager, Warrick Angus said: "Taronga Zoo has played a vital role in establishing and continuing the captive breeding program each year. In this last season an additional 18 chicks were produced, and13 of these will be released into Chiltern."
All 28 birds destined for release have been placed into a Quarantine facility at Taronga, where they are receiving expert care during their preparation for survival in the wild. During their stay the birds are introduced to each other allowing them to establish group bonds. They are treated to daily fresh deliveries of local native blossoms and live insects for them to feast on. The aim is to supply a natural diet and environment that mimics their native habitat and encourages natural foraging behaviours necessary for their survival in the wild.
Extremely valuable data is also being recorded about body measurement differences between male and female Regent Honeyeaters. The information is collated by keepers at Taronga Zoo and will allow researchers in the field to accurately identify the sex of each individual bird in a non-invasive manner, therefore enabling the accurate measurement of sex ratio in the remaining wild populations.
In Early May, the Regent Honeyeaters will be ready for release into their new home in the Ironbark woodlands in Chiltern, Victoria. The release date will perfectly coincide with the peak flowering period of their preferred food plants the Box and Ironbark Eucalypts, giving them the best possible chance of survival. Radio tracking devices will be fitted to each bird in order to monitor their progress following their release.
Although little is known about the movements and habits of this partially migratory species, the road ahead looks promising as the captive breeding program continues to soar ahead with extensive knowledge and skills gained over the past decade of breeding and caring for the Regent Honeyeater, an effective insurance policy for this endangered native species.
Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos care for 4000 animals from over 350 species, provide conservation messages to over 1.5 million visitors and conservation education to over 100,000 school students annually. The Zoos also conduct a huge range of conservation research, breeding and in situ projects from Antartica to Mongolia and throughout Australia and Asia, while providing wildlife health services to thousands of native animals each year.
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