Plains Wanderer finds new home at Dubbo Zoo

Plains Wanderer finds new home at Dubbo Zoo

#Animals, #Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo

Posted on 08th September 2018 by Media Relations

A conservation-breeding program has commenced at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo for the critically endangered Plains-wanderer, Taronga has announced today on National Threatened Species Day.

The joint project between the Office of Environment and Heritage’s Saving our Species program and Taronga has seen the construction of 30 purpose built aviaries in the Zoo’s 110-hectare Sanctuary. Plains-wanderers have been collected from the wild and relocated to the new aviaries, to become founders of an insurance population for this priority species.

“The Plains-wanderer is a unique and beautiful ground dwelling bird that is under imminent threat of extinction with less than 1000 birds remaining in the wild,” Minister for the Environment the Hon. Gabrielle Upton said.

“It is an iconic species identified through the NSW Government’s Saving Our Species Program, and one of 20 priority bird species in the Threatened Species Strategy. This project is critical to securing a future for this species in the wild and what better day to shine the spotlight on their plight than on National Threatened Species Day.”

The Plains-wanderer has experienced a decline of >90% since 2001 in both its population strongholds in the NSW Riverina and in Northern Central Victoria, primarily due to intensive cultivation and grazing of their natural grassland habitat. Now farmers and land managers are part of the solution and working with Office of Environment and Heritage and Local Land Services changing practices to improve habitat for Plains-wanderer.

The Plains-wanderer is a naturally timid species and initiates a freeze response at any sign of disturbance. One of the key tasks of the conservation-breeding program is to develop a thorough understanding of Plains-wanderer breeding, nesting activity and parental care behaviours, adding to the knowledge bank for what is a globally unique species.

“The Plains-wanderer is classified as an EDGE Species (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) through the EDGE of Existence program which highlights and protects some of the most unique species on the planet which are on the verge of extinction,” Taronga Manager Conservation and Recovery Programs Andrew Elphinstone said. “It is in fact the number one bird species on the EDGE list.”

“The Plains-wanderer is unique in the way it looks, lives and behaves. If they were to be lost there will be nothing like them left on earth. For Taronga to be able to play a key role together with the Office of Environment and Heritage to fight against the extinction of this species is a privilege.”

Mr Elphinstone said that the initial group of founder birds collected from the Hay Plains area of NSW have settled into the Dubbo aviaries and introductions have occurred.

“The male birds settled in very quickly, and whilst it took the females a little longer, we now have two settled breeding pairs. Keepers have observed one pair demonstrating breeding behaviour.”

Given their shy disposition, Keepers monitor the birds primarily via camera, only entering the aviaries when necessary. Taronga and OEH conservation staff will collect additional birds throughout spring in an effort to establish five breeding pairs at Taronga Western Plains Zoo before the end of 2018.

“The facilities constructed in Dubbo with the support from the Office of Environment and Heritage through the Saving Our Species Program can hold and breed up to 30+ Plains-wanderer per annum,” Minister Upton said.

The project is part of a National Recovery Plan for Plains-wanderer, aiming to establish a sustainable insurance population that can support the reintroduction of wild populations. Other partners in the insurance breeding program include Zoos Victoria, Zoos South Australia and Featherdale Wildlife Park.


About the Plains-wanderer:

The Plains-wanderer is a small quail-like bird standing about 12-15 cm tall and weighing 40 to 95 grams. Both sexes have straw-yellow legs and bills, and their plumage is mainly fawn with fine black rosettes. The larger female is easily distinguished by her prominent white-spotted black collar above a rich rufous breast patch.

The Plains-wanderer has declined greatly since European settlement. Areas where the species was formerly common, and is now so reduced in numbers that it is effectively extinct, include eastern NSW, south-western Victoria, and south-eastern South Australia. Its current stronghold is the western Riverina of southern NSW. Areas of secondary importance include north-central Victoria and central-western Queensland.

The bird was formerly fairly common until about 1920 on the Slopes and Tablelands, and there are two earlier records of birds near Sydney. The main reason for the decline in the numbers and distribution of Plains-wanderers in all eastern States has been the conversion of native grasslands to dense introduced pasture or croplands.


About Threatened Species Day:

National Threatened Species Day is commemorated across the country on 7 September to raise awareness of plants and animals at risk of extinction. Australia is home to more than 500,000 animal and plant species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. Over the last 200 years, more than 100 animal and plant species have become extinct.

In NSW alone there are close to 1000 animal and plant species at risk of extinction. Threatened Species Day is when the spotlight is turned on native plants, animals, and ecosystems that are under threat and reflect on how we can protect them into the future.

The day also celebrates the amazing work that is being done to save them by passionate conservationists, researchers, volunteers, and community experts.


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