After a huge drop in population due to the climate crisis and the bushfire disaster, the gang-gang cockatoo, the animal emblem of the Australian Capital Territory, will be officially designated as an endangered species.
Sussan Ley, Australia’s environment minister, has accepted the vulnerable species scientific committee’s proposal that the little cockatoo be protected under the country’s environmental laws.
In a letter to the ACT government, Ley stated that she had decided to designate the bird as endangered, meaning it faces a high risk of extinction, and that a national recovery plan was required.
The listing comes after the government recently upgraded the koala’s status from vulnerable to endangered after successive governments failed to reverse the animal’s decline.
Gang-gangs are small, grey cockatoos found throughout south-eastern Australia. The adult males are known for their distinctive red facial feathers. They are a common sight in Canberra, where they are often found in back yards in the inner suburbs and in nearby bushland reserves.
The bird is one of several plants and animals that required assessment after the 2019-20 bushfire disaster; a number of other species are also expected to be added to the threatened list.
The scientific committee wrote in draft advice last year that gang-gang populations had already declined by between 15% and 69% before the fires.
The bushfires affected 36% of the birds’ range, leading to an estimated further drop in numbers of 21%.
That decline was expected to continue because increased heatwaves and fire frequency as a result of the climate emergency were increasing pressure on the species across its range, with bushfires likely to reduce the amount of nesting habitat available to the birds.
Listing of the birds will mean developments likely to trigger a significant impact on the species must be assessed under national laws.
BirdLife Australia said it was a welcome move, but the organisation was “devastated to see a bird beloved by so many people in so much trouble”.
Holly Parsons, the manager of BirdLife’s urban bird program, which includes a gang-gang cockatoo recovery project, said the organisation’s monitoring had shown steep declines in the species since the 1970s.
“Even before the devastation of the 2019-20 fires, the species has been suffering immensely,” she said.
“With climate change only going to make things harder for this cold-climate bird, the government needs to step in and better protect this amazing bird and the native forests that provide essential nesting hollows in old growth trees.”
The ACT government will coordinate national recovery efforts after receiving funding from the federal government to establish a national working group.
The ACT environment minister, Rebecca Vassarotti, described the gang-gang as a “popular rascal” whose distinctive call was adored by the Canberra community.
“While we consider the ACT to be a stronghold for the species, the gang-gang is probably one of the least understood parrots in Australia,” she said.
“Preliminary results from collaborative research between the Australian National University and ACT government indicate there may be fewer gang-gangs in Canberra than was previously believed.”
She said the working group would develop multiple monitoring strategies to improve understanding of the distribution, density and abundance of gang-gangs across the east coast of Australia. This information would be used to help develop the recovery plan.
This article by Lisa Cox was first published by The Guardian on 1 March 2022. Lead Image: Gang-gang cockatoos, commonly seen in Canberra’s suburbs and nearby bush reserves, are set to be listed as a threatened species. Photograph: Jonathan Steinbeck/Getty Images/iStockphoto.
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