March 2022: Rockingham (Western Australia). Poisoned Corellas. Pesticide: Fenthion

Corellas poisoned in Perth with banned substance has authorities worried

March 17 2022

Nearly 40 corellas have been mysteriously poisoned with a harmful insecticide that has been banned since 2015.

In the past month, 37 birds have been admitted to the WA Wildlife Hospital after being found at Beeliar Oval in Cockburn, south of Perth, with signs of fenthion toxicity.

But according to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), all fenthion-containing products were phased out of the market by late 2015 because they were deemed to pose “undue risks to the environment and to human health” and are no longer available on the Australian market.

Corellas are considered a pest in many parts of WA and, despite many councils and shires imposing control methods on the corella population, WA Parks and Wildlife Officer Matt Swan labelled the poisoning “abhorrent”.

“The department doesn’t support ad hoc poisoning on a localised level.

“So even though we might be frustrated, we might be angry that corellas are perhaps waking us up in the morning or chewing on our TV antennas, when we lay poison out other animals can consume that poison and they can succumb to that poison as well.”

WA Wildlife’s director of operations Dean Huxley said the centre received daily calls or emails from community members who had found dead birds that were showing signs of poisoning.

“When we get these cluster events, that’s when we’re really concerned,” he said.

“In addition to these ones that we’re seeing at Beeliar Oval, we have had reports of some birds in Rockingham that have just been found dead [with] very similar signs.”

Mr Huxley said it was often difficult to prove animals had been poisoned once they had decomposed in the environment.

“Unfortunately, if the animal does die, we can’t always send them off for testing because there are costs involved with that,” he said.

“But what we do when we get a cluster event, which is what happened here, we work with the authorities to send animals off for testing and try and get some results and definitive answers.”

Mr Huxley said one-third of the corellas with signs of poisoning had survived and recovered.

Authorities stress ‘humane’ population control

According to the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife, corellas are considered a “low conservation value species” and are not endangered in Western Australia.

“That means you don’t actually need a licence to undertake control of corellas in the Perth metropolitan area, subject to local government area [regulations],” WA Parks and Wildlife Officer Matt Swan said.

“But that’s prescribed, and it must be done by firearm.

Mr Swan said the department engaged the WA Local Government Association (WALGA) several years ago to involve local governments in corella population control.

“That’s done in a much more organised, controlled fashion where corellas are trapped en masse and euthanased humanely by professional contractors,” he said.

Community encouraged to report suspicious behaviour

Mr Swan said the department was interested if the community had any information about “mass mortality events”.

“We are probably less concerned about a dead corella here or there — it’s those mass mortality events that we’re very interested in.

“And we are trying to understand where these poisonings might be taking place because these birds are highly mobile, they can fly many kilometres.

“Just because they’ve been found at a particular oval, doesn’t mean that they’re being poisoned or impacted on at that particular site.”

The City of Cockburn and the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development are also investigating the poisoning.