Mystery virus threatens an already critically endangered Australian parr
Mystery virus threatens an already critically endangered Australian parrot species
"Tony Lawson" <>
Tue, 16 Nov 2010 07:42:27 +1100
By John Platt Nov 11, 2010 02:45 PM 0
The orange-bellied parrot (Neophema chrysogaster), one of the world's most
critically endangered birds, could lose its bid at survival as a virus
threatens its vitally important captive breeding program.
The unidentified stomach virus that has struck the program causes the birds
to lose their feathers and weakens their immune systems, Shane Radial, a
veterinary professor with Charles Sturt University, told the Australian
Broadcasting Co. Because the captive parrots live in close proximity to one
another, "infections just find it easier to spread from one bird to
another," Radial said.
About 160 to 170 orange-bellied parrots live under the auspices of three
captive breeding programs: two located on Australia's mainland at
Healesville Sanctuary and Adelaide Zoo; one at Taroona on the island of
Tasmania. Radial did not identify in which facility the disease is present.
Another 50 of the birds exist in the wild.
The nature of the virus has not been established. An unidentified scientist
posting on the ProMED mail program for the International Society for
Infectious Diseases theorized that it could be avian influenza or
proventricular dilatation disease, which hampers food digestion.
The orange-bellied parrot was listed in 2006 as critically endangered under
Australia's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Once
common in Tasmania and Australia, the species has declined in the past 100
years as its coastal salt marsh habitat was destroyed for agricultural
purposes. Other threats include the pet trade; the introduction of invasive
weeds, some of which are toxic to the birds; and the introduction of
non-native predators such as foxes and feral cats. According to the
Australian government's national recovery plan for the species, the captive
breeding program was previously set back by outbreaks of psittacine
circoviral disease in 1991 and what may have been a herpes virus in 2005 and
2006, which killed 43 birds. It is not yet known if the current outbreak has
killed any of the birds or just weakened them.
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