Pilbara corella mystery unlocked

Alicia PereraPilbara News

The deaths of hundreds of corellas across inland Pilbara over the past few wet seasons have long been a local mystery, but Parks and Wildlife Service officers believe they have now discovered the cause.

Beak and feather disease has been identified as the likely reason for scores of corella deaths across the region in the past few years — most notably in Tom Price and Paraburdoo — based on the agency’s testing of five samples from the Pilbara in 2017.

Parks and Wildlife Pilbara regional wildlife officer Jamie Gault said the naturally occurring disease was widespread in Australia but only affected parrots and cockatoos.

“It’s a disease that acts as a virus to kill the cells of feathers and beaks,” he said.

“The symptoms start in an acute form, including diarrhoea and some feather abnormalities, commonly leading to an inability to stand upright.

“In the chronic form ... it will appear the bird is losing its feathers, parts of its beak go, and in most instances, the birds die. Some birds do recover but it is nigh impossible for them to recover from the chronic form of the disease.”

There have been reports of unusual corella deaths in different parts of the Pilbara in recent years, including in Karratha, Dampier, Hedland and Newman, but Mr Gault said by far the biggest outbreaks had been in Tom Price and Paraburdoo, where there had been hundreds of sick or dying birds reported.

Previous testing on the birds proved inconclusive, leaving local wildlife carers and vets stumped.

Parks and Wildlife Service officers are asking people to continue reporting any corella deaths to the service so it can monitor the situation, and say any new outbreaks will be investigated.

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