The Critically Endangered Species File: Orange-bellied Parrot
By Sean Crawley
Each issue of SHIFT presents one species of life that is classified as critically endangered, Homo sapiens excluded. By definition, whether it be by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), or your nation state’s environmental governance structure such as the Department of the Environment in Australia, critically endangered essentially means that the species is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future.
Species: Neophema chrysogaster
Range: The Orange bellied parrot breeds only on the south-west coast of Tasmania in the warmer months from October to March. They then migrate north across the Bass Strait to mainland Australia, and can be found along a thin coastal strip stretching across the states of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. Considering the total number of this species in the wild is thought to be less than 50 individuals, don’t expect to come across flocks of these parrots on the popular Great Ocean Road Trip from Melbourne to Adelaide.
- Loss of habitat
- Predation by cats and foxes
- Spread of noxious weeds
- Inbreeding due to small population and other genetic factors
- Competition with introduced seed-eaters and competition for hollows including the introduced Common Starling
In issue #1 of SHIFT we covered the Woylie in our critically endangered species file, and noted that it perhaps did not have the appeal of panda bears (cuteness) or whales (sheer size) in competing for our attention when it comes to saving a species from extinction. This issue we step down the anthropocentric ladder one full rung to the vertebrate class of Aves. Yes the Orange-bellied Parrot isn’t even a mammal! Our disdain for other life-forms seems to increase the further removed the species is from Homo sapiens on the evolutionary tree or classification table. However, any student of nature will appreciate that the web of life is interdependent on every last cell of biodiversity, and that any notion of hierarchy is human-created nonsense.
This lack of regard for birds in general, and in this case for a member of a family of true parrots (Family Psittaculidae), was disgracefully epitomised when former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett called the Orange-bellied Parrot a “trumped up Corella”. This was a typical pro-growth politician’s response to the threat posed by the orange-bellied parrot to the relocation of a chemical storage facility. Kennett was so off the mark with his name-calling as the Corella is, in fact, a cockatoo (Family Cacatuidae,) and not a parrot at all – back to Biology class for you Mr ex-Premier.
The legitimacy and necessity of every single life form (and of the non-living factors as well) on our planet is eloquently stated in David Suzuki’s Declaration of Interdependence. With such a holistic view of nature, the existence of birds in any ecosystem being as crucial as any other life form is easily understood. From a more technical scientific perspective, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, released in 2005, analyses and comprehensibly outlines how natural ecosystems are humanity’s life-support systems. It identifies and classifies these life supporting features as “ecosystem services”.
The Orange-bellied Parrot provides services to the ecosystem in which it exists that provide life support to humanity. To explore this a little further we can break down these services into 4 main categories: supporting services; provisioning services; regulating services; and cultural enhancement services. The orange – bellied parrot:
- supports all life by;
- dispersal and cycling of nutrients
- seed dispersal
- provides for life (either directly or indirectly and either presently or in the future) with;
- raw materials
- genetic resources
- medicinal resources
- ornamental resources
- regulates life by;
- carbon sequestration
- waste decomposition
- purification of water and air
- pest and disease control
- provides cultural enhancement as a resource for;
- cultural expression in books, film, art, folklore, architecture and symbols
- spirituality and history
- recreational experiences such as ecotourism
- science and education
What can be done?
The more of us who become aware of the growing and increasingly destructive march of industrial civilisation, the better. Every aspect of our presence on this planet needs to be questioned, and if necessary, as is likely, changed to be less harmful to the interdependence of all living and non-living systems on this planet. Be an agent of change for the better in any way that you can.
On a more specific level of species extinction, even though birds are no greater or lesser deserving of conservation efforts than any other species, the dire situation of the orange-bellied parrot justifies the use of any strategy. Even emotional tactics such as appealing to the parrot’s aesthetic qualities or the special place of birds in human mythology as symbols of freedom and wisdom are valid. The further reading links below are a starting point for becoming more aware, a source of contact to already established recovery efforts, and a path to motivating oneself to action. You may, for example, consider supporting the The Recovery Team, which recently celebrated its 30 year anniversary, by injecting some funds into their work, as the federal Australian Government no longer makes any financial contribution to the recovery of this species.