Gould’s Petrel

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Foundation-funded work helped save the Gould's Petrel from extinction. Photo: Tom Tarrant.
Foundation-funded work helped save the Gould's Petrel from extinction. Photo: Tom Tarrant.

In the early 1990s a survey of the endangered Gould’s Petrel (Pterodroma leucoptera) found numbers had dwindled alarmingly to around 200 nesting pairs.

In addition, offspring numbers were declining and they were only breeding at one location, Cabbage Tree Island, near Port Stephens on Australia's East Coast. 

The rescue of the Gould's Petrel became one of the most amazing conservation successes in history and triggered headlines in newspapers around the world.

The decline of the Gould's Petrels began in 1906 when rabbits were introduced to Cabbage Tree Island. Rabbit numbers multiplied and within a short time they had eaten significant amounts of understorey plants, leaving the Petrels vulnerable to attacks by Pied Currawongs.

As well as invasive and predatory animals, invasive weeds were threatening this species. Sticky fruit from the Bird-lime Tree was entangling Gould's Petrel chicks and adults as it found its way to the forest floor. These factors lead to a significant decline in numbers, which was beginning to look dire for this species.

The Foundation's Role in Saving the Gould's Petrel from Extinction

Backed by the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife, scientists Nick Carlile and David Priddel undertook a highly innovative and scientifically based recovery program that successfully rescued the Gould’s Petrel from the brink of extinction.

During 1997 to 1999 the National Parks & Wildlife Service eradicated rabbits from the island and introduced control measures for both the currawongs and the Bird-lime trees in the breeding areas. Eventually the understorey plants regenerated and the natural ecological balance was restored.

A second colony of Gould's Petrels was also established on nearby Boondelbah Island through an innovative translocation program. Hatchlings were removed to this new site in their nesting boxes and hand reared with a 98% success rate.

As a result the number of petrels nesting on Cabbage Tree Island rose to 856 pairs, and the number of young produced each year increased ten-fold to almost 500 per annum.

The Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife supported conservation actions for the Gould's Petrel for over a decade.

Thanks to the efforts of the scientists, 100 volunteers from the Cumberland Bird Observers Club, the Foundation and its supporters, the Gould’s Petrel is the first Australian bird to be downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable under NSW legislation.

The Gould's Petrel Recovery Program received accolades from around the globe and stands out as one of the world’s premier examples of the successful conservation of an endangered species.