Image credit: Dejan Stojanovic

posted 9 March, 2023

Captive bred birds help buy time for critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrots


Faced with imminent extinction less than a decade ago, the slow and steady recovery of the critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot in response to intensive conservation efforts has been a consistent good news conservation story in recent years.

However, their continued survival depends on ongoing human interventions to manage the population along with that most valuable of resources; more time.

Natural Resource Management South, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, is supporting research to find out the most cost-effective way of boosting the population of Orange-bellied Parrots in the short term, while managers and researchers continue to work on broader solutions to save this species. This research forms part of a broader Orange-bellied Parrot recovery project that NRM South is working on in partnership with the Tasmanian State Government.

Dr Dejan Stojanovic, from the Australian National University, has been leading this research. Through a series of population simulation studies, he concluded that introducing captive-bred juveniles into the wild population each year brings the greatest short-term benefits compared to other interventions.

‘One of the major problems we’re facing when it comes to saving this species is that we still don’t have the full picture on why so many juvenile birds don’t survive migration and winter,’ explained Dejan. ‘This mortality slows their population growth year-on-year.’

Although the research concludes that introducing captive-bred juvenile birds will not fix all of the species’ problems, it helps in the short term by sustaining the population and preventing this rare and beautiful bird from becoming extinct. It will also give managers and researchers more time to understand how they can improve survival of wild juveniles. Dejan added, ‘One thing that the population simulation model did show was that if releases of captive-bred juveniles ceased, Orange-bellied Parrots would decline to extinction in the next 50 years.’

In his recent article in The Conversation, Dejan highlighted that while re-establishing ‘extinct in the wild’ species from captivity is not impossible, it is extremely difficult. ‘Conservation of wild populations should focus on identifying and preventing threats to endangered species as a priority,’ concluded Dejan. ‘Ultimately we want to get Orange-bellied Parrots back to a situation where they are self-sustaining. Ongoing funding support is vital to achieving that goal, with a focus on identifying and mitigating threats to the wild population as well as captive breeding.’