A project ten years in the making and involving ten tiny Mallee Emu-wrens has taken an unexpected but delightful twist.
Keepers are agog at the arrival of three endangered and locally extinct Mallee Emu-wren chicks, the first ever thought to be born in captivity. The arrival of the tiny trio, which fledged just days ago, is something they never expected or planned so early on in what is a ground-breaking project to study the species and build a knowledge-base to help support their conservation in the wild.
“We’ve confirmed there are three fledglings,” said Tom Hurley, Assistant Curator of Natives at Monarto Safari Park.
“To the best of our knowledge this is the first time the Mallee Emu-wren has bred in captivity, with the three birds fledging in mid January,” continued Tom.
With adults weighing around five grams (about the same as a sheet of paper) the young are truly miniscule.
With support from the Threatened Mallee Bird Conservation Action Plan Steering Committee and Zoos Victoria, Monarto Safari Park formed the first ever captive population of the wrens in 2023 and housed them in purpose-built aviaries, built with help of the local Murray Bridge Rotary.
“The arrival of the chicks shows that the birds are settled. It doesn’t feel real at the moment and it hasn’t quite sunk in that the birds have produced chicks.”
Little is known about the secretive species and Zoos South Australia’s Conservation Manager, Mark Smith, said the research being undertaken at the park will shape the conservation approach to saving the Mallee Emu-wren from extinction.
“Our research looks into what is needed to keep the birds thriving in human care to determine the feasibility of a captive ex situ population as a conservation tool,” said Mark.
“It is the culmination of a lot of work by many of the Zoos SA team, a variety of partners and traditional owners. And we’re super excited about the progress so far.”
The Zoos SA and Mallee Emu-wren conservation story started ten years ago 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.
In 2015, Zoos SA took the first major step, undertaking husbandry trials with closely related Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens to test the feasibility of bringing Mallee-emu Wren to a specially designed aviary at Monarto Safari Park.
“A lot of the techniques we learnt from researching the Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens we have applied to the Mallee Emu-wrens and it’s clear to us that those techniques are working because the Mallee Emu-wrens are thriving,” said Mark.
“I first got involved in the program in 2015 and it’s been a long road to this point. To have this success and the birds thriving in the aviaries we designed for them is exceptionally fulfilling,” finished Tom.