A Taronga zoo-based Regent Honeyeater ‘breed for release program’ aiming to optimise reproductive success and survivability, is showing improved conservation outcomes for the critically endangered bird.
The study has tracked almost 300 birds released near Chiltern, Victoria, and has found that fledglings exposed to the song of wild regent honeyeaters while in their aviaries at the zoo, had a 75% chance of surviving in the wild, compared to a 63% chance for birds that were not tutored.
The research also found that males have greater breeding success if they were raised in aviaries with other bird species and have better chances of survival if they came from parents that produced only one clutch of eggs a year and had mothers that first reproduced at about age one.
Dr Joy Tripovich is one of the lead researchers of the program at Taronga Zoo.
“We're not sure how many other programs around the world are incorporating song tutoring into their breed-for-release husbandry, but the Regent Honeyeater is the first to review its impacts across the entire breeding program. Having seen that it has a positive impact for released birds, we're now working to understand how they learn to sing so we can teach them better, and we're also working to understand why the song is important.” Said Dr Joy Tripovich a Behavioural Biologist at Taronga.
The Regent Honeyeater - photo by Paul Fahy
How endangered is the Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera Phrygia) ?
A population estimate of 1,500 in 1992 has significantly decreased to around 350-400 mature birds (in 2015) largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation, degradation of remnant habitat, predation and its small population size.
“Research from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub has given the species a 57% chance of going extinct in the next 20 years without intervention. The breeding program is bolstering the wild population, and with such a low population it will be a while before the species is secured. Ongoing efforts are necessary to ensure there is suitable habitat for birds to be release into.” Said Dr Tripovich.
Successful Breeding Programs
Conservation breeding programs such as this one, play an important role in mitigating the unprecedented rates of species extinction due to human driven environmental change.
Breeding and conservation translocation programs aim to re-establish or supplement animal populations in the wild to enable them to become self-sustaining as threatening processes are addressed.
The success of conservation translocation programs not only relies on the number and quality of animals re-introduced but on the long-term commitment to restore and preserve the natural habitat of animals in the wild.
“The Regent Honeyeater is one of Taronga's Legacy Species that we're committed to helping survive. We've invested in breeding facilities at our zoo to support the species and our keepers have developed expert knowledge to care for and breed these birds.” Said Dr Tripovich.
“Protection of habitats is one of the most fundamental ways we can avoid extinctions. There are many ways we can help through direct action and through our choices. Limiting further land clearing and degradation, choosing sustainably sourced products, supporting regeneration projects and calling for action on climate change can all have positive impacts on the future of our species.”
The Regent Honeyeater recovery program is a partnership between many different organisations and is supported by state and federal government funding as well as private philanthropy. The study involves The Taronga Conservation Society Australia, The University of NSW, Birdlife Australia, the Zoological Society of London, Monash University and the University College London.
To support this conservation program visit: www.taronga.org.au/donate.
Further reading: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcosc.2021.669563/full