By Jasmine Crittenden
A crowd funding campaign to save three of Australia’s endangered bird species exceeded its $40,000 target within the first three days and, with two weeks to go, has raised more than $65,000. “It’s just astonishing. I was sceptical it wouldn’t get off the ground,” says Dr Dejan Stojanovic, a conservation biologist at the Australian National University and co-coordinator of the campaign.
Dr Stojanovic and his team plan to buy 1,000 nesting boxes and ship them to Tasmania, to protect swift parrots, 40 spotted pardalotes and orange-bellied parrots during breeding season. In April 2014, Dr Stojanovic co-published a study in Diversity and Distributions demonstrating the groundbreaking discovery that swift parrots, which nest in the hollows of mature trees, are vulnerable to sugar glider predation in deforested areas. Approximately 2,000 swift parrots and fewer than 60 orange-bellied parrots survive in the wild.
Yet last month, Environment Tasmania’s Pulling a Swiftie report found that the Tasmanian Government’s support of logging in five areas in the state’s southeast ignored advice from scientists in the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment. The scientists had warned that logging would result in the loss of important swift parrot habitat, contradicting the Government’s objective of “ecologically sustainable forest management”.
“It’s so frustrating,” Dr Stojanovic says. “I can bang on about how endangered swift parrots are and how we know the threats are being exacerbated, but until there’s a genuine attempt to implement environmental policy, then what’s the point?
“We turned to crowd funding because we want to act urgently. If nothing is done, the swift parrot population could collapse within 16 years. Besides, the funding available to scientists usually requires a high research impact, which doesn’t necessarily equate to an on-the-ground conservation impact.”
Dr Stojanovic organised the campaign, which is running on Pozible until May 31, with Henry Cook, an ecologist and wildlife photographer. To help spread the word, Mr Cook asked cartoonists David Pope, Jon Kudelka, Fiona Katauskas, Cathy Wilcox, John Shakespeare and Andrew Marlton, whose work appears under the pseudonym First Dog On The Moon, to donate artworks, to be shared on social media. Supporters who pledge $65 or more receive a print.
“Before I was a cartoonist, I did a science degree,” says Jon Kudelka, whose cartoons appear regularly in The Australian and The Mercury in Hobart. “So I was sympathetic to the cause. I know how hard it is to get funding for science.” He and First Dog On The Moon, a cartoonist for The Guardian Australia, ran their own Pozible campaign last year, to fund the research for, and writing of, their book Spiritual Journey: in which two intrepid cartoonists bravely tour the dangerous Tasmanian whisky trail.
“I have known about the plight of the swift parrot for a while,” says Andrew Marlton. “The State and Federal Government responses are bad and so they need to be mocked unkindly. This was an opportunity to help without actually having to go anywhere.”
However, Dejan Stojanovic and Henry Cook did not expect such a quick and generous public response. “My colleagues and I spend most of our time on our own, in the bush, looking at dead birds and clear felled forestry,” Dr Stojanovic says. “It’s easy to start thinking that no one gives a damn. But now, it makes me happy to know that I have 900 or 1,000 emails from people who have literally invested in the conservation of this species.”
As Mr Cook says, “The total isn’t made up of big donations, but mainly forty and fifty dollar pledges, which shows there’s a lot of support for this sort of conservation work. I think it’s because a nest box is something you can visualise, so people feel like they’re making a proper contribution. It’s not nebulous.”
Jenny Weber, campaign manager at the Bob Brown Foundation, says the scientists are doing extraordinary work. “They’re working for the retention of a species, while the Government is pushing up against them, logging the birds’ habitat. Whatever action can happen now is important.”
Since Pozible’s founding in 2010, the public has pledged more than $30 million, launching more than 8,390 Australian projects. Environmental campaigns have received close to $318,000. In October 2014, Matt Herring, a wildlife ecologist, raised $57,423 to track the Australasian bittern, an endangered water bird that breeds in the Riverina’s rice farms. On 13 April 2015, the Bob Brown Foundation raised $20,040, doubling its target goal, to fund a 30-minute documentary portrait of the Tarkine, a threatened wilderness area in northwest Tasmania.
However, while 1,000 nesting boxes might provide swift parrots, spotted pardalotes and orange-bellied parrots with improved opportunities for breeding in the short-term, their long-term survival depends on the cessation of logging in their habitats.
“The swift parrot is such an iconic, amazing species, and it’s still at a point where it could be managed to avoid the situation of the orange-bellied parrot, which is on the brink of extinction,” Henry Cook says. “But if nothing’s done about the logging, it will go extinct eventually – it might be in 20 years, it might be in 50 years, but it will happen.”