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Anna Le Souëf BSc (Hons) BVMS

A Doctor of Philosophy Thesis

The development of prognostic indicators for the successful rehabilitation of black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus spp.)

Supervisors

  • Dr Kris Warren BSc BVMS (Hons) PhD, Murdoch University
  • Dr Carly Holyoake BSc BVMS PhD, Murdoch University
  • Dr Simone Vitali BSc BVMS (Hons) PhD, Perth Zoo
  • A/Prof Stan Fenwick BVMS MSc PhD, Murdoch University

Dr Le Souëf’s research investigated aspects of the rehabilitation process for three endangered species of black cockatoo endemic to Western Australia: Carnaby’s cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris), Baudin’s cockatoo (C. baudinii) and the forest red-tailed black cockatoo (C. banksii naso).  These species are under threat from a number of factors including habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, competition with other species, shooting by orchardists and vehicle strike.  For over a decade, the Perth Zoo Veterinary Department has collaborated with the Department of Environment and Conservation to provide treatment and rehabilitation for injured and debilitated wild black cockatoos, with the aim of releasing birds back to the wild.

The project involved the analysis of medical records from 565 wild black cockatoos that were admitted to the Perth Zoo Veterinary Department between the years 2000 – 2009.  The results from this study will provide knowledge on the life histories of presenting birds and will be used to construct prognostic indicators for use by the Veterinary Department.  Haematological and biochemical reference ranges were compiled for the first time for the three species which will be useful for veterinarians and researchers involved in the treatment and health surveillance of wild black cockatoos. 

The incidence of Chlamydophila psittaci infection amongst wild black cockatoos admitted to the Veterinary Department was investigated through both serological and PCR testing.  This disease is endemic among several wild bird populations and can be fatal, particularly when birds are stressed or immunocompromised.  The results showed that wild black cockatoos did not show exposure to the disease, but there is a risk of birds becoming infected during the rehabilitation process.  These findings are valuable for the management of captive and rehabilitated birds.  

Another part of the study involved the creation of an aging tool for black cockatoos.  Currently there is no method for the determination of age past sexual maturity (4 – 6 years) but cockatoos have been known to live until well past 50 years of age.  Due to the reduction in available nesting resources over the past half-century, flocks of wild cockatoos seen around today may actually consist of many birds that are past breeding age.  Research in the United States has shown that the concentration of a compound in bird skin can be used to determine age.  In an Australian first, samples from over 50 black cockatoos of known age were collected and will be used to construct an ‘aging curve’ which will be available for the age determination of wild birds. 

Methods of attaching radio and satellite transmitters were also investigated during an 18 month captive trial involving the attachment of 28 transmitter packages to black cockatoos.  The findings from this trial will be used to direct future studies into the post-release survival of rehabilitated cockatoos.

Dr Le Souëf’s research has contributed significant knowledge about wild black cockatoos undergoing rehabilitation for release and will aid greatly towards the continued conservation of these magnificent birds. 

Publications

Le Souëf AT, Stojanovic D, Burbidge A, Vitali S, Heinsohn R, Dawson R and Warren K. Evaluation of three transmitter attachments for black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus spp.) (in draft)

Conferences

  • Le Souëf AT (2007).  The development of conservation and prognostic indicators for the rehabilitation of black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus spp.).  WDA Annual conference of the Wildlife Disease Association (Australasian Section).  Dryandra Woodland, Western Australia. 22-28 September 2007.  
  • Le Souëf AT (2008).  Epidemiological study of black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus spp.) admitted to the Perth Zoo Veterinary Department.  WDA Annual conference of the Wildlife Disease Association (Australasian Section). Kioloa, New South Wales.  20-26 September 2008.  
  • Le Souëf AT (2008).  Veterinary rehabilitation of black cockatoos at the Perth Zoo Veterinary Department.  Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo Symposium.  Department of Environment and Conservation, Kensington, Western Australia.   1 December 2008.  
  • Le Souëf AT (2009).  From pest to plight: Western Australia’s black cockatoos.  West Virginia University Wildlife Society meeting.  Morgantown, West Virginia, USA.  2 September 2009. 
  • Le Souëf AT (2009).  A study of endangered black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus spp.) admitted to the Perth Zoo Veterinary Department (Poster presentation).  12th Conference of the International Society for Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics.  Durban, South Africa. 10-14 August 2009.

Acknowledgements

This research was undertaken with financial support provided by Perth Zoo, Murdoch University Veterinary Trust, the School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Murdoch University and Birds Australia (WA).

Photos provided by Anna Le Souëf.

Perth ZooBirds AustraliaDepartment of Environment and Conservation