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< > Grus rubicunda - Brolga (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)

Grus rubicunda - Brolga. Click here for full-page view with caption. Head of Grus rubicunda - Brolga. Click here for full-page view with caption. Grus rubicunda - Brolga. Click here for full-page view with caption. Head of brolga. Click here for full-page view with caption. Grus rubicunda - Brolga with chick and egg on nest. Click here for full-page view with caption. Grus rubicunda - Brolgas unison calling. Click here for full-page view with caption. Brolga. Click here for full-page view with caption.  Heads brolga and sarus cranes.  Click here for full-page view with caption. Brolga crane distribution map. Click here for full-page view with caption.










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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Australian crane (B107.w8)
  • Grus australasiana (B474)
  • Grus rubicundus (B481.II.6.w14)
  • Antigone australasiana (B474)
  • The Native Companion (B474)
  • de Australische Kraanvogel (Dutch) (B474)
  • la Grue d'Australie (French) (B474)
  • der Australische Kranich (German) (B474)
  • Grue brolga (B107.w8)
  • Brolgakranich (B107.w8)
  • Gruella Brolga (B107.w8)
  • Megalornis australasiana (B479.w1)

Names for newly-hatched


Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases


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Species Author

Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

Major References

B97, B107.w8, B479.w16, B480.9.w9, B481.II.6.w14, W2.Dec06.w12, W2.Nov2013.w13

Aviculture references:
B115.2.w7, B479.w16, D437, J23.14.w4, J23.17.w5, P1.1986.w4, P96.1.w1


(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

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Aviculture Information


General Information:
  • Cranes are tall birds with a long beak and sharp claws, and can be aggressive. Their ability to injure humans must be considered in enclosure design and handling. (B115.2.w7, B197.9.w9)
  • Most cranes are wetland species, a few being primarily grassland species. They should be given the opportunity to wade and bathe, and to forage and/or dig for food in natural vegetation and soft soil substrates.
  • Good nutrition, with adequate protein and micronutrient levels, is essential for the general health of the cranes and for breeding.
  • Cranes form monogamous pairs and can be extremely territorial, particularly in the breeding season. Therefore it is important to house each pair of adult cranes in a separate enclosure from other cranes, and preferably not directly adjacent to another pair of cranes, particularly of the same species. Visual barriers should be put in place between crane enclosures before the breeding season
  • Care is required when introducing intended mates to each other, to avoid injury to one or both birds; formation of a good pair bond can take time.
  • Cranes are unlikely to breed if they feel insecure, such as in mixed species enclosures with hoofstock, or if there is no part of their enclosure which is free from daily human disturbance.
  • If possible, rotational pens should be provided, such that a pen can be left empty in alternate years, to reduce soil burdens of parasites and pathogenic microorganisms which may otherwise build up to problematic levels; this is particularly important if chicks are to be parent-reared, to avoid overwhelming exposure to e.g. gapeworm very early.

(B115.2.w7, D437, J23.17.w5, P1.1986.w4, P96.1.w1)

Species-specific information:

  • As with Grus antigone - Sarus crane, "Requires to be slept under cover during the winter months." [in East Yorkshire, UK]. (B479.w16)]
  • Dig a lot and tear up turf. (B479.w16)
  • Can be very aggressive to other species; need to be housed separately. (B479.w16)
  • Young chicks are very aggressive to each other and need to be kept separated. (J23.14.w4)
Management Techniques


Bird Husbandry and Management

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Measurements Height: about 160 cm. (B107.w8) Wingspan: 200-230 cm. (B107.w8); male slightly larger than female. (B107.w8)
Adult weight General --
Male 4,716 - 8,729 g. (B107.w8)
Female 3,628 - 7,255 g. (B107.w8)
Newly-hatched weight --
Growth rate Cranes general: Crane chicks grow rapidly. Growth of the legs is particularly rapid in the first six weeks, with the wings then developing rapidly after this. (B107.w8)

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Adult Bill Male Greenish-grey. (B480.9.w9); olive-green, lighter towards the tip. (B97)
Variations (If present) Female: --
Eyes (Iris) Male Orange. (B107.w8) Orange-yellow. (B97)
Variations (If present) Orange, orange-yellow or yellow. (B480.9.w9)
Juvenile Bill Chick: "pink-tipped with greenish-grey". (B480.9.w9)
Eyes (Iris) Dark brown. (B107.w8, B480.9.w9)

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Adult Male
  • Dark grey. (B107.w8)
  • Blackish-grey. (B479.w16)
  • Dark grey to black. (B480.9.w9)
  • Black. (B97)
Variations (If present) --
Juvenile In chicks, pinkish-grey. (B480.9.w9)

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Adult Male
Uniformly grey. Head bare red skin patch except cap grey feathered and small grey feathered ear patch. Small red dewlap (B107.w8) Neck and body grey. (B107.w8)
Variations (If present)
Juvenile Similar to adult, but head is totally feathered. (B107.w8)

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Identification Notes

Cranes general: 
  • "Cranes are large to very large birds with long necks and legs, streamlined bodies and long, rounded wings." (B107.w8)
  • Compared to the day-herons, cranes have longer legs and hold their necks straighter. (B107.w8)
  • Compared to egrets, the body is proportionately larger. (B107.w8)
  • Compared to storks, the legs are longer, bodies lighter and bills smaller. (B107.w8)
  • In flight, cranes have their necks straight forwards and their long legs trailing behind, forming a straight line from the bill; in very cold weather the legs may be pulled in against the body. (B107.w8)
  • In flight, cranes have their necks straight forwards and their long legs trailing behind, forming a straight line from the bill; in very cold weather the legs may be pulled in against the body. (B107.w8)

Brolga specific:

  • The bare red skin on the head covers the face below and level with the eyes, and extends round the back of the head, but (unlike in Grus antigone - Sarus crane) does not continue down the neck. The top of the head is covered with grey feathers, as is an oval patch over the ears. (B107.w8)
  • Distinguished from Grus antigone - Sarus crane by its smaller size, darker legs (blackish-grey rather than pinkish) and different head markings. (B479.w16)


  • Relatively low and gutteral calls. (B107.w8)

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

  • Precocial. Able to run and, if necessary, swim, within hours of hatching. (B480.9.w9)
  • Grey, head and neck buff. (B107.w8)
  • Upperparts blueish-grey, "inclining to fawn colour on fore part of crown", underparts paler, bill terracotta with tip greyish, legs and feet pinkish-grey. (B479.w16)
  • Cranes general: The initial down is replaced by a second coat of down; this is replaced by feathers. (B107.w8)

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Detailed Anatomy

  • Possesses specialised salt glands near the eyes (not found in other cranes), from which concentrated salts can be excreted. This is an adaptation for use of salt marshes and other saline wetlands. (B107.w8)
  • The trachea is coiled and fills most of the anterior half of the sternum. (B107.w8)
  • Cranes have ten functional primary flight feathers (with a vestigial 11th in most species), and 18-25 secondary flight feathers. (B107.w8)
  • The moult is gradual, so these cranes do not have a prolonged flightless period. (B107.w8)

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Reproductive Season

Time of year
  • In the north of Australia, breed in the wet season, peaking February to March. (B107.w8)
  • In Queensland, mainly during the wet season, but a few in the dry season. (B480.9.w9)
  • In the south of Australia, the breeding season is less distinct, lasting July to November. (B107.w8)

In captivity:

  • Eggs laid early June, North Yorkshire, UK. (B479.w16)
No. of Clutches Renesting has been reported following predation of young, also second renesting, but with only a single egg in this case. (sB481.II.6.w14)

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Nest placement and structure

  • A large (up to 1.5 m diameter) mound of grass and sedge stems, in densely vegetated wetlands, built as water levels rise. (B107.w8)
  • Described nests have varied from almost nothing to evident and substantial nests of grass, sticks, grass and leaves, and other vegetation. Nests are variable in size, for example 57 - 142 cm across. (B480.9.w9)
  • In a large enclosure with tall grass, a pair formed a shallow depression in the grass and lined this with small sticks. (J23.14.w4)

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average
  • Usually 2. (B107.w8)
  • For 27 clutches, average 1.815. (B480.9.w9)
  • One to three, but usually two (in 27 clutches, 20 had two eggs, six had one and one had three eggs). (B480.9.w9)
Egg Description
  • "White, about the size and shape of a goose's egg, sparingly spotted with rufous and with underlying markings of violet grey." (B479.w16)
  • Dull white to cream or creamy-budd, with chestnut and purplish brown dots/splotches, usually mainly towards the large end of the egg. Measurements of 26 eggs averaged 92.0 x 60.5 mm; another 63 averaged 90.62 x 60.89 mm (85.0 - 99.8 x 56.38 - 67.3 mm). (B480.9.w9)

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  • 28-31 days. (B107.w8)
  • Incubation begins after the first egg has been laid. (B107.w8)
  • 32 days observed in captivity. (B479.w16)
  • 31-33 days observed in captivity. (J23.14.w4)

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Asynchronous. (B107.w8)

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About 100 days. (B107.w8)

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Sexual Maturity

Males 3-5 years. (B107.w8)
Females 3-5 years. (B107.w8)

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Feeding Behaviour

  • Digs with large bill, particularly in drier areas, and forages in shallow waters and wetlands, including saltwater as well as freshwater marshes. (B107.w8)
  • Dig for bulbs and tubers, also grazing. (B480.9.w9)
Newly-hatched Initially take food offered by their parents, but also start foraging for themselves "almost from hatching".

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Parental Behaviour

  • Captive data:
    • Both birds built the nest. (J23.14.w4)
  • Cranes general: Both male and female build the nest. (B107.w8)
  • Cranes general: A secluded spot in the pair's territory is chosen, and the cranes unison-call there, then walk away from the selected place and toss nesting materials over their shoulders towards it. Returning to the nest site, they pull into the nest material which is within reach, then slowly walk away and toss more material towards the nest, repeating this sequence until sufficient nesting material has been gathered. (B107.w8)
  • Captive data: 
    • Both male and female incubate. (B479.w16)
    • A pair at Melbourne Zoo both incubated, but most of the time the female incubated, particularly at night. At change-over, the cranes faced each other and vocalised, necks and bills stretched nearly vertically upwards while the male's wings were lowered to nearly touch the ground. The eggs were never left for more than 15 minutes. (J23.14.w4)
  • Cranes general: 
    • Both male and female incubate, changing over several times during the day, but with the female usually incubating during the night. (B107.w8)
    • About every 30-80 minutes, the bird which is incubating will rise and roll the eggs or adjust the nest. (B107.w8)
  • Parents feed the chicks. (B480.9.w9)
  • Some bits of food are offered during the first 24 hours, more thereafter. (B481.II.6.w14)
  • Captive data: 
    • Both male and female brood the young chicks; chicks were observed sleeping on the back of the female, under the feathers. The male was very defensive of his family, spending a lot of time stalking along the fence lines. (B479.w16)
    • Both birds dug up earthworms and fed these to the chick; they also fed it on grasshoppers and, as earthworms became less available, small pieces of meat (provided to the adults as part of their diet). Both birds brooded the chick but, as with incubation, brooding was carried out mainly by the female, with the male sometimes brooding the chick during the day. (J23.14.w4)
  • Cranes general: Adult cranes feed their chicks from soon after hatching. Both male and female bring small items to the chicks, presenting them by holding the food item at the tip of the bill or dropping the food in front of the chicks. (B107.w8)
  • Quite large chicks may still beg their parents for food. (B480.9.w9) Fed to nearly a year old. (B481.II.6.w14)

  • Parents and juveniles remain together until the young are 10-11 months old, with the parents guarding their young. If the pair do not breed the following year, the young may stay with them for a further year. (B480.9.w9)

  • Cranes general: Adult cranes continue to care for their chicks throughout the pre-fledging period and may bring food to the chick for several months (although chicks also follow their parents to food sources from an early age). Juveniles remain with their parents through the non-breeding periods but leave at the start of the next breeding season or are driven away after the return to the breeding territory. (B107.w8)

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Social Behaviour

  • Remain in family groups, even when forming larger flocks of several hundred individuals, keeping a distance of several feet apart while feeding and larger distances (2-6 metres) while roosting. Usually males drive intruders away from their female or young with a short threatening run, with wings spread and neck arched forwards and upwards, but rarely chasing for even 20-50 feet. Afterwards, the male returns to his mate/family and stands erect with arched neck and bill pointing to the ground; sometimes the pair unison call. (B480.9.w9)(B480.9.w9)
  • During the nonbreeding season, form flocks, roosting communally at night. Nevertheless, appear to remain in family groups. (B481.II.6.w14)
  • Cranes general: 
    • Cranes are gregarious outside the breeding season, but separate for the breeding season. (B107.w8)
    • Juveniles which are not yet paired gather in non-breeding flocks and may be nomadic through the breeding period. (B107.w8)
    • By the end of their second year the young birds may have started to initiate pair bonds. (B107.w8)
    • Soon after the chicks fledge, families of migratory cranes gather in flocks at pre-migratory staging areas with dependable food and safe roosting sites. As the weather deteriorates, they move further south to join larger congregations of cranes, before setting out on the main migration. (B107.w8)
  • An unusual situation was described of an emu incubating seven emu eggs and two Brolga eggs in a nest, while the pair of cranes fed nearby. (B480.9.w9)
  • Brolgas have been seen to drive away storks, dogs and horses. (B480.9.w9)

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Sexual Behaviour

  • Unison call: the male raises his secondaries over his back, primaries stiffly down, with the head and neck stretched upwards, bill pointing up and slightly back; the female has her wings tight folded to her sides, head and neck held raised straight up. (B480.9.w9)
  • Cranes general: Monogamous. Crane pairs stay together all year, and usually remain together until one partner dies. (B107.w8)
  • Cranes general: (B107.w8)
    • Cranes copulate repeatedly, starting several weeks before egg laying.
    • Mating usually occurs before sunrise, but can also occur at other times during daylight hours. 
    • In newly-established pairs, copulation is preceded by long bouts of dancing. Well-established pairs mate without any tension. 
    • The copulatory sequence is initiated by the male or the female. The initiating bird elevates its bill, arches slightly forwards and gives a low, purring call. The mate then shows similar behaviour. 
    • The male bird (usually) circles its mate with exaggerated steps.
    • The female spreads her wings. The male approaches, jumps onto her back with his wings flapping, and crouches.
    • The female elevates her tail, the male lowers his tail, and the cloacae of the two birds meet.
    • The male jumps forward off the female over her head and for a few seconds performs threat displays.
    • Both birds perform a long preening sequence.


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Predation in Wild

Hailiastur indus - Red-backed sea eagles reported to predate eggs, and Canis dingo - Dingoes and Vulpes vulpes - Red foxes reported to prey on young cranes. (B480.9.w9, B481.II.6.w14)

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Activity Patterns

  • Walk from the roosting site to the feeding site if this is relatively close e.g. half a mile or so, but for larger distances they fly to the feeding area at very low heights, just a few feet above the ground. (B480.9.w9)
  • Roost in shallow water, also seen on a tidal flat usually in a few inches of water, sometimes in the same place although it was dry. (B480.9.w9)
  • Highly diurnal. Outside the breeding season, spend much of the daylight hours foraging, particularly until midmorning and again in late afternoon. Roost commually in shallow water. (B481.II.6.w14)
  • During the dry season, drink frequently and may have to fly considerable distances to find fresh water. (B481.II.6.w14)

Cranes general:

  • Roosting:
    • Cranes (except the Balearica spp.) generally roost in shallow water, occasionally on mudflats, sandbars or dry ground.
    • In flocks, cranes stand about a "peck distance" apart while roosting.
    • Most of the time they stand on one leg, switching legs several times during the night.
    • The head and neck are tucked onto or under one shoulder.
    • Cranes defecate at regular intervals while roosting.
    • On the roosting site they are still and silent unless disturbed.
    • If there is an unfamiliar sound, or one member of the flock gives an alarm call, all the birds become alert and are ready to fly.


  • At dawn, they wake, stretch, preen and drink.
  • In small groups, they fly to a post-roosting staging area, and preen more; cranes may gather at such a site from several roost sites.
  • Small and then larger groups move from the staging area to a feeding area for the day.
  • Generally, cranes feed for a long time in the early morning, then move to loafing areas.
    • At loafing areas, cranes preen and drink, and also engage in social displays, establishing a pecking order for families, and facilitating pairing of unattached birds.
  • In the middle of very hot days, they may fly, spirally high up on thermals.
  • Later they return to feeding and watering areas and forage.
  • They then move to pre-roosting staging areas before flying to a roost site.
    • On the pre-roost staging areas they may engage in social displays.


  • Cranes general: Diurnal. Outside the breeding season, cranes roost at night and feed during the day. (B107.w8)

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Natural Diet

Adult Diet

  • Sedge tubers dug from the mud of drying marshes are important, particularly Bulkuru sedge (Eleocharis dulcis) in northern Australia. Also insects, crustaceans, molluscs, small vertebrates (frogs, mammals, birds), and in cultivated areas grains and nut crops. (B107.w8)
  • Bulkuru sedge tubers, also various plants (wetland and dry land plants), agricultural crops (maize, wheat, rice, peanuts), insects such as grasshoppers, leafhoppers, dragonflies, beetles, mantids, moths, other invertebrates such as crabs, freshwater crayfish, spiders and molluscs, and vertebrates such as mudskippers and frogs. (B480.9.w9, B481.II.6.w14)
    • Note: while brolgas do will drink saline water, fresh water is needed daily. (B480.9.w9)

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Newly-hatched Diet

Insects fed to the chicks by the parents; later also tubers. (B480.9.w9, B481.II.6.w14)

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Detailed Physiology Notes


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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)


Brolga crane distribution map. Click here for full-page view with caption.

  • Northern and eastern Australia, with small populations in New Guinea, in the basin of the River Sepik and in Trans-Fly. (B107.w8)

  • Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. (W2.Dec06.w12, W2.Nov2013.w13)


  • Non-migratory. (B107.w8)(B481.II.6.w14)

  • Local movements occur in response to seasonal conditions. (B107.w8)

  • Return to nesting marshes once the rainy season has started. (B480.9.w9)

  • Queensland and Northern Territory, disperse during the wet season to inland nesting sites and upstream areas of coastal floodplains, then gradually return to the coastal areas as the dry season arrives. (B107.w8)

  • Proliferation of small water developments such as stock ponds has probably allowed increased inland dispersal. (B107.w8)

  • South Australia, disperse to isolated wetlands in the breeding season and return to traditional flocking areas for the dry season. (B107.w8)

  • New Guinea: movements not studied. (B107.w8)

Occasional and Accidental
  • Vagrant to New Zealand (B480.9.w9, W2.Dec06.w12, W2.Nov2013.w13) and the Russian Federation. (W2.Dec06.w12)



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  • Variable: fresh waters, grasslands, open forests, cultivated areas and saline areas all used. Freshwater swamps with predominantly bulkuru sedges (Eleocharis dulcis) preferred. (B481.II.6.w14)
  • Different habitats used in the south and north of Australia, and variations depending on season: (B107.w8)
    • Southern: shallow (water under 50 cm deep) freshwater marshes preferred; deeper marshes, wet meadows and brackish wetlands also used. In summer, December to May, move to traditional flocking areas of permanent wetlands, upland pastures and drier foraging areas. (B107.w8)
    • Northern: more use of saline areas, use coastal freshwater sedge marshes. When the wets season arrives in December, partly disperse to nesting areas in temporary inland marshes. (B107.w8)
  • New Guinea habitats not studied. (B107.w8)

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Intraspecific variation

  • Monotypic. (B107.w8)
    • Previously two subspecies recognised, with the northern birds named Grus rubicunda argentea, but this division is no longer recognised. (B107.w8)
  • Note: hybridization with Grus antigone - Sarus crane recorded in the wild. (B481.II.6.w14)

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Conservation Status

Wild Population -
  • Not globally threatened. Population estimated to be 20,000-100,000 individuals, generally stable with local declines. (B107.w8)

  • Continues to occupy most of historical range. Apparently expanding into western Australia but retraction of range in the south-east including Victoria. (B107.w8)

  • New Guinea population: little information. (B107.w8) no recent records from Sepik region. In Trans-Fly, locally common with flocks of up to 600 birds. (B107.w8)

  • Global extent of occurrence is estimated at 1,000,000–10,000,000 km˛. The total population is estimated at 26,000–100,000 individuals (2002). (W2.Dec06.w12)


  • Loss and degradation of wetlands due to soil erosion, sedimentation, vegetation change and agricultural land reclamation. (B107.w8)

  • Also, in southern Australia, land subdivision, utility lines and predation by (introduced) Vulpes vulpes - Red fox. (B107.w8)


  • Some field studies mainly in south-east and east Australia. (B107.w8)

  • Expansion of private wetland management and restoration particularly in Victoria. (B107.w8)

  • "Friends of the Brolga" established 1991 and conducting surveys and educational programmes. (B107.w8)

General Legislation --
CITES listing CITES II. (B107.w8)
Red-data book listing Least Concern ver 3.1, 2012 (previously assessed as Least Concern in 2004, 2008, 2009). (W2.Nov2013.w13)
  • Least Concern, due to large population (estimated 26,000-100,000 in 2002), large geographical area of occurrence (estimated at 1,000,000–10,000,000 km˛), and the fact that the population is not believed to be declining more than 30% in 10 years or three generations. (W2.Dec06.w12)

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Captive Populations


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