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Back from the brink

Published 21 Sep 2015 

Dr Stephen Murphy and field assistant and partner Rachel Barr record reference calls among the spinifex at the undisclosed location of Night Parrot population. Photo from The Australian.Dr Stephen Murphy and field assistant and partner Rachel Barr record reference calls among the spinifex. Photo from The Australian.

Ornithologist Dr Stephen Murphy is leading efforts to research the newly discovered population of Night Parrots. Dr Murphy takes a moment to discuss the significance of this work.

Visitors to central Australia often speak about feelings of emptiness because of its vast, sparsely populated landscapes. But even a quick flick through a book on Australian native mammals will show that there's a more profound source of those feelings.

Page after page show images of mammals that are now extinct. Nights in central Australia are now relatively silent. It seems likely now that nobody will ever again hear rustling sounds from Desert Rat Kangaroos or Pig‑footed Bandicoots, or any of the other nine totally extinct central Australian mammals as they busily go about digging for food or building their nests.

I think that’s why Night Parrots generate so much interest for many people. For nearly 80 years it was thought they had gone the same way as all those desert mammals.

Night Parrot held by Dy Steve Murphy The first live Night Parrot captured in more than 100 years. Photo Rachel Barr.

Naturalist John Young’s breakthrough in finding and photographing Night Parrots in south‑west Queensland, and the work that's happened since including Bush Heritage’s ongoing attempts to secure and manage the area, represents an opportunity to claw back something in central Australia that we thought was lost forever.

In the course of conducting research on their ecology, as far as we know, my partner Rachel and I are the only people alive to have held a living, breathing Night Parrot. In fact, Rachel is the only woman alive who has definitely seen one. But any sense of achievement, let alone jubilation at being in this exclusive club, is soon overshadowed by the realisation that Australia has been here before. In 1931, mammologist H.H. Finlayson led a party into remote South Australia to find Desert Rat Kangaroos that, even at that time, hadn't been seen for nearly 100 years.

He was able to photograph, capture and study aspects of the ecology of this enigmatic species, just before it vanished again in 1935. It’s never been seen since, nor is it ever likely to be.

Finlayson’s story tells us that there's an urgent need to do everything we can to protect Night Parrots. They're not back from the brink, yet. They are very much still teetering on the brink of extinction and we all share the responsibility to make sure we don’t lose yet another animal from central Australia.

Your generous donation could help save the Night Parrot from the brink of extinction. Funds raised will help us establish a 56,000 hectare conservation reserve to protect the only known population of this endangered bird. Donate now.