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The Night Parrot & secrets

Dr Alex Kutt (Ecologist)
Published 26 Jun 2017 by Dr Alex Kutt (Ecologist)

When the Night Parrot was first rediscovered in 2013 there was much joy and excitement. And with reason; one of Australia’s most cryptic birds had been found, giving heart to passionate bird enthusiasts that not only was this iconic species still in existence, but that there was also an opportunity to now see one alive. A Night Parrot tick would be a dream-come-true for so many bird watchers.

However, this happiness drifted into disquiet. The location was kept secret and information about calls was concealed. This caused a lot of consternation and agitation in the community – why after such celebration, was this brilliant discovery being kept from the public?

The property location was leaked, but both Pullen Pullen and the Diamantina National Park location were protected by conservation orders making illegal access prosecutable by large fines.

Fast forward to now, a mere 18 months after the purchase of Pullen Pullen – the calls have been released, habitat information is well known and two new populations have been found, in Western Australia and possibly the Northern Territory.

New records and localities are likely to increase rapidly over time.

This is a good time to reflect on the agitation, excitement, and often heightened emotions, created by this discovery.

Why did we initially keep the location and basic information secret?

A recent essay by Professor David Lindenmayer, one of Australia’s most renowned conservation scientists, published in the journal Science and summarised in the Conversation spells out the case cogently. It has reinforced the reasons why the Night Parrot Recovery Team, the Queensland Government and Bush Heritage Australia decided to keep the location and much of the initial habitat and call information under wraps.

His paper concluded that by publishing sensitive locality data scientists should ask themselves: Will this information aid or harm conservation efforts? Is this species particularly vulnerable to disruption? Is it slow-growing and long-lived? Is it likely to be poached? He presented evidence of increases in poaching, collecting, and then species decline due to the publication of locality data for sensitive species.

This was our main concern – the safety of the birds.

It was thought that immediate information release could lead to nefarious behaviour by an unethical few people, resulting in poaching, disturbance and possible irreparable interference with the Night Parrot population, causing it to disappear.

Ongoing ecological data collection by Nick Leseberg, PhD student at the University of Queensland, suggest that the population is small, and despite searching locations that seem suitable, the total number of birds is not increasing – only between 10 to 100 birds – still distressingly tiny numbers. But the data Nick and before him Dr Steve Murphy collected, helps us understand how to manage the bird and then access to the species.

Efforts to secure this population and find new ones, continues apace, and in time people will get the chance to experience this weird little flying avocado-esque bird in the wild. But patience and understanding is required – until the bird is secured and we understand its habitat, behaviour and ecology, the risk remains of a few false steps - and then it’s gone again.

Please help us protect the Night Parrot by donating to support our work at Pullen Pullen and beyond

Our work at Pullen Pullen to protect the Night Parrot is supported by the Queensland Government’s Nature Assist program.

Pullen Pullen Reserve. Photo by Annette Ruzicka. Pullen Pullen Reserve. Photo by Annette Ruzicka.
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