Saving the black cockatoos Reply

by Andreas Suranto

The beauty of an endangered bird: the Yellow-tailed cockatoo, photograph by Oystercatcher, and the Red-tailed cockatoo, photograph by Bill and Mark Bell.

The beauty of an endangered bird: the Yellow-tailed cockatoo, photograph by Oystercatcher, and the Red-tailed cockatoo, photograph by Bill and Mark Bell.

Her silhouette drifts low above the ground. Black as the shadow beneath her, she is in contrast to clear sky. Well, except for red-yellowish specks on her body and red spot on her tail. Her wings are fully extended, and that could only mean that she is fully accelerated. Her black feathers are fluttering the wind so that their yellow and red tips make coloured lines. Then she lands on a tree branch. There she rests, eyes unblinking, beak closing and crest rising. Calm and quiet, she seems oblivious to what she is facing. She is in danger.

“She is beautiful, isn’t she?” says Erin Stone, a keeper and animal trainer in Taronga Zoo, where a number of red-tailed black cockatoos have settled. “Her name is Daggles, and she is 17.” Black cockatoos can live up to 80 years old in captivity. In equivalent human years, Daggles is considered a teenager.

“They live in tree hollows, where they also breed. And actually, they do live quite well around us, taking advantage of new food and modern resources,” Erin says. “Typically, they are more active in the morning than in the afternoon. They avoid moving in the hottest part of the day”.

Erin shifts her attention to Daggles as she gazes gently at the red-tailed black cockatoo. It is pretty obvious that they have quite a connection. “People have a devastating impact on them,” she says “And yes, they are endangered.”

There are five species of black cockatoos – glossy, yellow-tailed, Carnaby’s, red-tailed and Baudin’s black cockatoo. Out of the five, the last three are classified as under threat of extinction. The cause of their decline in numbers has been the loss of their habitat. And in some cases, the decline in availability of food has also had an impact. “The biggest impact we have on them is chopping down their homes to build our homes. This bird nests in the hollow of tree that take at least 100 years to be big enough for them,” Erin says.

The three endangered species of black cockatoos each have their own characteristics, with different habitats and diets. Red-tailed and Carnaby’s have a thick, strong short beak, while Baudin’s black cockatoo has a very thin long beak. Red-tailed black cockatoos live in woodlands and tropical rainforest, and Baudin’s and Carnaby’s black cockatoos live in heavily forested areas. All black cockatoos are endemic to Australia.

Erin put Daggles in her spacious cage, five metres in length and three meters in height. The Zoo has simulated the bird’s habitat with sturdy branches and hollowed trees. In here, Daggles shares her home with six others black cockatoo, two white cockatoos, a kookaburra, a rosella and a parrot. However, one thing is noticeable when Daggles mingles with other black cockatoos. There is a difference in appearance between the red-tailed black cockatoos. Male red-tailed only have red spot on their tails, without the rich yellowish red specks. However, that does not make them less appealing. The black of the males looks soft and brilliant, unlike the black of that of the crow.

Due to the Internet, the black cockatoos are highly prized by collectors around the world.. Sold at the price of $10,000, a red-tail black cockatoo can be delivered to a collector’s door. “This is not a small matter,” Erin says. “I am personally 100 per cent against that.”

However, there are organisations fighting to save these birds. One of them is Kaarakin Conservation Centre, a not-for-profit organisation with a focus on saving the black cockatoo. Sandra Evans, Environmental Project Manager, voices her concern. “The number of birds that have been lost over the years is alarming. Decades ago they flew in flocks. You’d see the sky and it was black here and there. Now, you can only see them rarely.”

Back at the Zoo, the breeze was getting colder. Daytime is almost at the end. The black cockatoos are lined up along two branches, eyes unblinking, beaks closing and crests rising. Daggles is hard to identify in the line-up. Calm and quiet, they seem oblivious to what they are facing. They are in danger.

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