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Abbott’s boobies out of their tree on Christmas Island

May 6, 2014 Destination Global, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59It was already endangered, and now a cyclone off the Western Australian coast has dealt the world’s last population of the Abbott’s booby (Papasula abbotti) a big blow.

Last month Cyclone Gillian carved a trail of wreckage across Christmas Island, located 2000 km north-west of Perth, tearing off roofs and causing rockfalls. However, tragically, the storm also felled many of the Australian island’s tallest trees – and with it the nests of many endangered Abbott’s boobies.

While most of the adult birds flew to shelter, the storm hit at just the wrong time for many helpless chicks, which were blown onto the ground.

Staff from Christmas Island National Park and volunteers from Island Care (a small not-for-profit, community based conservation group) mounted a rescue effort. They retrieved the surviving chicks from the forest floor – unable to fly or feed themselves, without help their future would have been Web-banner-300-250grim.

A purpose-built shelter was hastily constructed for the stunned and injured chicks and carers began the mammoth task of raising the chicks to adulthood.

Sadly, not all of the chicks survived their injuries and some were lost as they adapted to their new surroundings. Caring for seabirds is notoriously difficult, but with advice from Perth Zoo, seabird experts and veterinary staff the remaining birds are doing well.

One of the biggest challenges facing the dedicated band of park staff and volunteers is feeding the hungry chicks. Each bird eats up to 12 small fish and squid a day, which due to the island’s remote location in the Indian Ocean, has to be freighted in.

“They are eating us out of house and home – we can’t keep the food up to them!” exclaims Karenn Singer, a spokesperson for Island Care, who adds, “as the boobies grow they will need more and more food.”

“The chicks will not be fully fledged for around another seven or eight months and as they are no longer in their natural habitat, they also need medicine and vitamins,” explains Singer who has turned to crowdfunding to help raise sufficient funds to feed the hungry chicks.

Christmas Islanders have already dug deep in their pockets to help the iconic seabird, but according to Singer, “a further AUD 12,000 is needed to help the birds on their journey to adulthood.”

The plea for global support has the backing of both Christmas Island National Park and Dr Janos Hennicke from University of Hamburg who travels every year to the far-flung island to study the Abbott’s booby (www.seabirdproject.cx).

“It is a unique and threatened seabird species and the efforts to save the rescued juveniles are fantastic and invaluable,” adds Dr Hennicke, who showcases the plight of the Abbott’s booby to eco-tourists on field trips during the island’s annual Bird ‘n’ Nature week.

You can follow progress of the boobies here: www.facebook.com/IslandCareChristmasIsland and donate here: www.chuffed.org/project/save-the-abbotts-booby

Booby facts:

  • The birds are not related to the Australian Prime Minister, but are named after American naturalist, William Louis Abbott who ‘discovered’ them on Assumption Island near Madagascar in 1892.
  • Once widespread, they now breed only on Australia’s Christmas Island.
  • A booby lays a single egg, breeding only every two years.
  • Chicks do not fly until they are around six months old and may remain dependant on their parents for up to 18 months.
  • Christmas Island’s 2014 Bird ‘n’ Nature Week is on 30 August – 6 September. www.christmas.net.au
  • The Christmas Island National Park covers 63 per cent of the island and is home to many endemic creatures including the red crabs which migrate en masse every wet season  www.parksaustralia.gov.au/christmas

Edited by : Peter Needham

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