What sparked your interest in ecology and motivated you to pursue a Ph.D. in conservation?
Nature has always been central to my life. There is no moment where the interest was sparked, so to speak; it’s simply always been there. I grew up surrounded by wildlife in South Africa, which I’m sure helped shape my interests. I was, and still am, fascinated by the living world and its complexity. Naturally, I chose to study biology and ecology at university.
It took me a few years of working professionally to realise that ecology and conservation, while intimately related, are not the same thing. Saving ecosystems and wildlife requires a whole lot more than an understanding of how they function - human dimensions are equally important because those drive most of the problems we face. This realisation instigated my transition from ecology to conservation, first as a master’s degree and later a Ph.D.
What drew you to the Glossy Black-Cockatoo to focus on?
My conservation ethic is less about the species and more about the problems. There are so many species that need help that so when it came to deciding on a PhD topic, I was happy to move away from marine biology, which was my background, to terrestrial biology.
Black-cockatoos are a highly threatened group of birds, with deep meaning in Indigenous culture. The two most endangered black-cockatoos are the Kangaroo Island glossy black-cockatoo and the south-eastern red-tailed black-cockatoo, both of which became the focus of my research. In terms of behaviour, glossies are a wonderful study subject. They’re tolerant of human presence and gentle in nature (as much as is possible for a cockatoo!).
Please tell us about the Threatened Species Recovery Hub that you are a member of?
The Threatened Species Recovery Hub is a collective of leading conservation institutions, including the University of Queensland where I am based, and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. We’re a mixed bag of researchers and practitioners from a wide array of disciplines, all here to improve the situation for Australia’s threatened species.
Australia is a global extinction hotspot – we have the worst rate of mammal extinction in the world - and the job of changing this is immense. The best thing about the Hub is being part of such a large, knowledgable and passionate community of conservationists – I’ve learnt so much from my colleagues. The Hub is supported financially by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.
What can people do to help the recovery of wildlife habitats after the devastation of the bushfires?
One way to make a meaningful difference is to support the organisations who are working to making landscapes more resilient. We need more habitat in more places; we need threats abated and on-ground recovery actions implemented. This all requires money and resources and the public’s contribution goes a long way to achieving that.
Considering the situation on Kangaroo Island, had it not been for the years of on-ground recovery works, like replacing feeding habitat that was historically cleared, the situation today after the fires would be much worse. Consider making a regular donation to an environmental organisation.
Beyond that, we all need to think carefully about our lifestyle, what we consume and – perhaps more importantly – where we invest our money. Bank Australia is a great supporter of black-cockatoo conservation, even purchasing land for their conservation and supporting research.
We can see that you are an avid reader, what are the top three books you would recommend to discover more about Australia and its unique species and ecosystem?
Tim Flannery’s The Future Eaters is a must. It’s a seminal piece of writing. Tim Low’s Where Song Began is a brilliant exploration of how birdsong evolved on the Australian continent before spreading across the world. The very first songbirds were right here and their descendants are still around us today. Tim Winton’s Island Home is another favourite. It’s a celebration of this continent, its diverse landscapes and reminds me why we work hard to protect it. I just realised the Tim theme there!
In support of the Kangaroo Island Glossy Black-Cockatoo conservation program, ELK in collaboration with Illustrator Meeri Anneli, New Model Beauty Queen printing company and Morning Star Press, created a limited edition T-shirt. Sales from the limited edition T-shirt raised over $11,000 and this money has been donated to the Nature Foundation South Australia to help support the recovery of the Glossy Black-Cockatoo.
Thank you to all of those who bought a T-shirt in support of this cause.