The head of a breeding program for endangered birds said Sunday she will fight to ensure four, blue-eyed cockatoos are not returned to the former area woman who, Florida authorities said, abandoned them two months ago.
A custody hearing is scheduled Wednesday in Escambia County for the four cockatoos and eight other birds left in a house that authorities said Wende DeOliveira rented. The birds have been in foster care since they were recovered.
Mary Ellen LePage, head of the American Federation of Aviculture Inc.’s Cooperative Breeding Programs, said there are strict rules that apply to the four cockatoos.
“If they’re taken away, they will be going outside the Cooperative Breeding Program, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent,” said LePage of Los Gatos, Calif.
The hearing presents the opportunity for LePage to place the cockatoos with experienced breeders and adhere to the terms on which DeOliveira, with permission from the federal government, imported them from Italy where they were taken after hatching near Papau New Guinea.
LePage said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a permit to DeOliveira for the birds that were hatched in either 2006 or 2007. Their native habitat is in danger due to deforestation and the breeding program aims to introduce them into the United States and increase the population to the point where it is sustainable.
DeOliveira sought to establish an avian center and breed the two pairs of male and female birds on a farm she leased in Beaumont. She fought attempts to evict her and a civil judgment was issued against her in Wyoming County Court, but she left the place in shambles and abandoned animals on the property in 2012.
It’s unknown when she went to Florida. Authorities there have been in contact with her by phone , but have been unable to serve her with papers to appear for the custody hearing.
LePage said she believes the abandoned birds were the same ones DeOliveira had at her planned Woody Acres Avian Conservation Eco Center. The cockatoos have not been bred and DeOliveira had no experience as a breeder when she was issued the USFWS permit, added LePage, who said she has seven pairs of the birds and one female chick was hatched from a mating.
“She’s not allowed to bring these birds in for show birds,” LePage said. “They’re not pets.”
She was adamant about not allowing DeOliveira to get custody of the cockatoos through the upcoming custody hearing. “There’s no way we’re transferring them back to her,” LePage said.
She said she’ s been in contact with a breeder in the program from Lakeside, Fla., who will attend the hearing and present a copy of the Collective Breeding Program permit that states the birds must remain in the program.
If the court allows it, the breeder will place the birds with another breeder in Texas in the program who’s already volunteered to take them, LePage said.