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Australian Magpies control pests on Fiji Coconut plantations

FIJI TIMES ONLINE Samisoni Nabilivalu Saturday, October 29, 2011

THE Australian magpie (mekepai gymorthina tibicen), which was first introduced to Fiji in the 1800s, is keeping Cicia's coconut plantation free of stick insects.

There were at least two and probably more separate introductions from Australia, one of which, in 1916, was organised by the Agriculture Department which charged planters $1 a pair.

A statement from the Department of Agriculture confirmed that while many believe the only well established magpie population in Fiji is on Taveuni, some of these birds went as well to plantations on Cicia and Mago islands in Lau.

Senior agricultural officer (Lau) Mere Salusalu said the magpie population on Cicia was thriving and had been largely responsible for keeping the stick insect population on the island in check.

"They are quite well established and this makes Cicia the only island to be free of this pest following a recent survey by the Department of Agriculture (DOA)," she confirmed.

She said the survey, which was carried out to determine the infestation of rhinoceros beetle and stick insects, two of the most serious pests of coconut in Fiji, showed an alarming surge in infestation of the two pests.

The finding have resulted in the awareness training and eradication program being carried out by DOA in the affected areas.

"The surge in infestation by the two pests has been blamed on the neglect of plantations due to fluctuating price of copra over the years."

Ms Salusalu said because of the current interest in copra as a lucrative source of income, farmers were now revisiting their old plantations to take advantage of the opportunity.

"Their interests have been rekindled mainly by the opening up of local markets for biofuel, virgin coconut oil and other by-products of coconuts."

The Fijian magpies are believed to be hybrids of the black and white-beaked species that were imported from different parts of Australia.

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