Monarto Safari Park

A first in Australian conservation achieved in the fight to save Mallee Emu-wren

After 10 years in the making, ten endangered Mallee Emu-wrens have arrived at Monarto Safari Park, forming the first ever ex-situ population of the species and marking a major milestone for their conservation. The Mallee Emu-wren is one of Australia’s smallest birds, with adults weighing a tiny four to six grams! They are listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List.

In August 2023, a team of staff from Zoos SA and Zoos Victoria, and independent ecologists travelled to Victoria’s Mallee country to collect ten birds and create a small ex-situ population at Monarto Safari Park.

Zoos SA’s Conservation Ecologist, Claire Hartvigsen-Power, has been driving this project and says it is a monumental milestone after years of hard work.

“Bringing Mallee Emu-wren to Monarto Safari Park will allow us to study the birds and build a valuable knowledge base to support the conservation of the species.

“Over the next few years, we aim to maintain a population of these birds in captivity, developing skills and expertise to assist on-ground conservationists and land-managers to quickly intervene if the wild population is under an emergency threat.”

Claire says studying the birds at Monarto Safari Park will also shine a light on the Mallee Emu-wren’s biology, with limited research currently available due to the endangered status and cryptic nature of the species.

“Having expert knowledge about the Mallee Emu-wren could be the difference in whether the species survives the next Victorian bushfire,” finished Claire.

In the public eye, conservation work is recognised at the pinnacle of a project, with programs earning their moment in the spotlight for a new birth or wild release.

But it’s the years of tireless work behind the scenes that the community doesn’t see which makes this conservation success story so special.

For Zoos SA, the Mallee Emu-wren conservation story starts in 2013.

A series of bushfires during 2013 and 2014 saw the local extinction of Mallee Emu-wren in South Australia, reducing wild populations to three national parks in north-west Victoria.

A single catastrophic bushfire at the site of one of these remaining populations could push this species very close to extinction.

The loss of the South Australian population sparked an emergency response to develop recovery techniques to respond to such a critical situation, with collaboration between Zoos SA, Zoos Victoria, threatened Mallee bird experts and State and Federal Government.

In 2013 Zoos SA committed to developing a knowledge base on how to best care for Mallee Emu-wren in captivity at Monarto Safari Park.

Good research is crucial in conservation because for endangered animals, there are rarely second chances.

In 2015 we took our first major step, undertaking husbandry trials with the closely related Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens to test the feasibility of bringing Mallee-emu Wren to a specially designed aviary at Monarto Safari Park. Assistant Curator of Natives and Primates at Monarto Safari Park, Tom Hurley, helped coordinate these trials.

“Through our work with the Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens we’ve built a valuable knowledge base on best practice husbandry techniques.

“This helped Zoos SA support partner organisations to move Mallee Emu-wrens from Victoria home to South Australia in 2018,” said Tom.

Five years later, we’re now making the next moves to safeguard the species and extend research through the first ex-situ Mallee Emu-wren research project at Monarto Safari Park.

This important research will shape how we approach the conservation of Mallee Emu-wren both in captivity or the wild in years to come.

As a conservation charity, Zoos SA is proud to be having a real impact on saving the Mallee Emu-wren from extinction. Each time the public visit, they are supporting us in our mission to save species from extinction.

About Zoos SA

Zoos SA is a not-for-profit conservation charity that exists to connect people with nature and save species from extinction.

Zoos SA acknowledges the Country on which we stand always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land and we pay our deepest respect and gratitude to Kaurna (Adelaide Zoo) and Ngarrindjeri (Monarto Safari Park) Elders, past, present and emerging.

We undertake critical conservation work throughout Australia and acknowledge the traditional custodians of these lands.

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