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University of Kent conservationist to aid parrots in peril

A once critically endangered species of parrot now under threat from a highly contagious virus may be offered a renewed chance of survival by a conservationist at the University of Kent.

Dr Jim Groombridge, Lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation at the University’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), has been awarded £215,594 from the Leverhulme Trust to lead a three-year project that aims to determine what factors drive the Mauritius parakeet’s susceptibility to infection, and in particular the spread of the highly contagious (and often lethal) parrot-specific virus Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) that has recently infected this endangered parrot.

This project is all the more important given that the once widespread population of the Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula echo) fell to just 12 individuals by 1987, following a century of habitat loss and competition from the introduced ringneck parakeet. However, following a highly successful avian restoration programme, numbers of Mauritian parakeets eventually recovered to 350 birds (resulting in its downgrading from critically endangered to endangered) but in 2004 an outbreak of PBFD threatened this still recovering population.

Alongside its principal aim of providing important guidance for managing the disease-problems encountered by this endangered parrot, the project will also provide equally important guidance for managing infectious disease in species conservation programmes worldwide. In addition, it will provide a rare opportunity to study the epidemiology of infectious disease as extensive data is available from 20 years of careful monitoring of both the Mauritius parakeet and a closely related, introduced species of parakeet.

Dr Groombridge’s partners on the project are: Dr Owen Lyne, Institute of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science, University of Kent; Dr Chris Faulkes, Queen Mary, University of London; Dr Andrew Greenwood, International Zoo Veterinary Group, UK; and Dr Carl Jones, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation on Mauritius.

The dramatic success story of the Mauritius parakeets’ rescue from extinction (one of the few remaining endemic parrots in the Indian Ocean) is the direct result of coordinated efforts and long-term support of the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, The World Parrot Trust, the UK’s International Zoo Veterinary Group and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey.

Dr Groombridge said: ‘This project will integrate epidemiology and immunogenetics within an important and high-profile parrot recovery programme managed by the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation – an organisation that has gained a worldwide reputation for its success in restoring critically endangered species from the brink of extinction. Funding by The Leverhulme Trust will provide a much needed inter-disciplinary platform to examine how avian diseases can be effectively managed for the long-term.’

The Leverhulme Trust is one of the largest all subjects providers of research funding in the UK, distributing funds of some £40 million every year. For further information about all of the schemes that the Leverhulme Trust fund go to


The Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) is dedicated to building capacity in countries rich in biodiversity, and to undertaking research necessary to conserve biodiversity and the functioning ecosystems upon which people depend. In support of its mission, DICE has now trained postgraduates from over 75 different countries, and many occupy increasingly influential positions in conservation.

The Institute's recent MSc in International Wildlife Trade and Conservation provides students with the knowledge to address trade regulation and management at both the national and international levels. The programme provides information on the workings of CITES and how this complements other multilateral environment agreements. The longer running MSc's in Conservation Biology, and in Conservation and Tourism, are also relevant to the work of national management and scientific authorities, international and national NGOs, consultancy firms and contractors, international agencies and donors.

DICE's PhD programme in Biodiversity Management sees students such as Inogwabini Bila-Isia undertake multidisciplinary and applied projects on a wide range of topics that seek to conserve biological diversity in tropical countries. DICE's research students are publishing increasingly important and relevant research in high impact journals.

For further information go to:
The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is the only non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Mauritius to be exclusively concerned with the conservation of the endangered endemic plants and animals of Mauritius. The organisation’s mission is to save threatened Mauritian species through the restoration of entire ecosystems, to seek new information through field research, data management, captive studies and scientific collaboration for direct application to restoration methods and management.


The International Zoo Veterinary Group (IZVG) was founded in 1976, by the association of two veterinary practices which were involved in full-time freelance zoo animal medicine. One associate practice, Dinnes Memorial Veterinary Hospital, is based in California and works mainly in the United States and the Far East; the other, Taylor, Greenwood, Lewis and Thornton is based in Britain and works mainly in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. The group work with zoos, parks and marinelands around the world, treating wild, rare and endangered species. Drs. Taylor, Greenwood and Lewis are recognised as specialists in Zoo and Wildlife Medicine by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and Drs. Taylor, Greenwood, Lewis and Thornton are UK government-appointed Zoo Inspectors. In recent years, it has become increasingly involved in providing veterinary support for species conservation projects in developing countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Paraguay, Mauritius, Russia, Indonesia and the Caribbean Islands. IZVG supports Wildlife Vets International registered charity no. 1109670.
The World Parrot Trust - As a leader in parrot conservation and welfare, the World Parrot Trust works with parrot enthusiasts, researchers, local communities and government leaders to encourage effective solutions that protect parrots.
To do this, it focuses on:
•Conducting and supporting field conservation projects,
•Working to eliminate the international trade in wild caught parrots and;
•Increasing awareness of the plight of parrots, in the wild and in captivity.
The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’s mission is to save species from extinction, and it has a proven track record of doing just that. The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is an organisation born out of the passion and desire of one remarkable individual determined to do his bit to help endangered species worldwide. Gerald Durrell’s devotion to conservation was evident from an early age and he continued his work right up until his death in 1995. The Trust has already saved six species from extinction, more than any other institution of comparable size, and is currently ensuring the survival of over 30 endangered species worldwide. This effort is through a combination of solid science and effective practical work, both undertaken at our headquarters in Jersey, seamlessly linked with our conservation activity at field sites around the world.


The University of Kent, the UK’s European University, is one of the country’s most dynamic universities. The first institution within the county to be granted a university charter, it now has 17,000 students studying at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge and Brussels and is a major educational, economic and cultural force throughout Kent.

The University is among the top thirty universities in the UK according to The Guardian’s recent Higher Education League Tables. The tables put Kent in 28th place - out of 117 listed higher education institutions. The Independent ranked the University at 35.

The University of Kent was also voted the number one university in London and the south-east for student satisfaction and tenth in the UK overall in the most recent National Student Satisfaction survey.

Earlier this year, the University was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for the work of its Kent Law Clinic and received the top award in two categories at the most recent Times Higher Education Awards. According to The Sunday Times in its 2007 University Guide, Kent ‘can claim to be Britain’s only international university’.

More than 80% of research staff work in departments which contain research of national or international levels of excellence.

Karen Baxter | alfa
Further information:

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