Foreign donations prop up Australia's endangered parrot response

Western ground parrot needs millions spent on it, but volunteers say Coalition is trying to shift costs to not-for-profits

The Turnbull government helped broker a $200,000 agreement for a German not-for-profit to fund conservation work for a critically endangered Australian parrot, bolstering criticism it is shifting the cost of protecting threatened species to community and philanthropic organisations.

The western ground parrot is one of only three ground nesting parrots found in Australia and is one of 20 birds the government has committed to helping as part of its threatened species strategy.

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But the parrot is receiving just $80,000 in species-specific funding from the federal government through its threatened species recovery fund to construct new facilities for “a captive breeding trial at Perth zoo”.

The environment department says additional money to support the birds is coming from a $1.7m feral cat baiting program in WA and an agreement it “brokered” with a German parrot association for $200,000 for a western ground parrot project.

The Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots, a Berlin-based not for profit, agreed to provide the funds in 2017 for work by the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions to increase feral animal control, “monitor existing populations and enhance captive breeding methods”, an environment and energy spokeswoman said.

Conservation groups say the international donation is an example of the government increasingly trying to move the cost of threatened species work onto volunteers and charities and at a time when it has been trying to stop not-for-profits from accepting overseas donations for political advocacy work.

“Governments are increasingly trying to shift the cost of threatened species conservation onto communities and philanthropic organisations by touting the value of ‘partnerships’,” said Jenny Lau, the acting head of conservation at Birdlife Australia.

“Under current levels of government funding, the ‘partnership approach’ is like government turning up to a bushfire with a garden hose expecting the community and philanthropics to bring the water bombers.”

She said the lion’s share of the cost of threatened species recovery should still be taken on by the government, and there was a multimillion-dollar gap between what was needed for the western ground parrot and what had been made available.

The parrot is one of the government’s targeted species and its own threatened species prospectus states $3m over three years is needed for projects.

Lau said funding through the feral cat program was welcome, but it was difficult to tell how much of the $1.7m was aiding specific species like the western ground parrot, which is found in a single location in WA.

Additionally, the government said the $80,000 it provided for work at Perth zoo would support a “captive breeding trial”, but both the zoo and the WA government told Guardian Australia there was currently no captive breeding program in place.

Rather, the project, called the western ground parrot breeding program, was researching the reproductive biology of the birds to try to determine if a captive breeding program was viable. Three males and an older female are in captivity and breeding attempts have not resulted in viable eggs.

It’s estimated less than 150 of the parrots remain in the wild after fire ripped through their habitat in 2015.

The species’ only known location is in Western Australia’s Cape Arid national park and adjacent areas of Nuytsland nature reserve.

Volunteers working with the species say the bird urgently needs funding for a translocation study to see if an alternative wild population can be established in another part of WA to try to save it from extinction.

Paul Wettin, vice-chair of Friends of the Western Ground Parrot, said an application for federal funding for studies that would aid translocation work had been rejected by the government last year. The group is donating $30,000 to try to help fund this work.

“If we have another wildfire like 2015, that population is gone, so finding an alternative location is absolutely critical,” he said.

Wettin said federal funding for rangers doing monitoring work had also been reduced last year.

Similar calls for assistance were made for the bramble cay melomys, an Australian island rodent that went extinct after officials failed to move some of the population to another location in time.

James Trezise, policy analyst at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said the western ground parrot case showed the need for a thorough independent audit of Australian threatened species funding and its effectiveness.

Earlier this year, Guardian Australia revealed some threatened species funding was not supporting projects that help threatened species.

“It’s funny that as the government is clamping down on foreign donations it’s just facilitated a foreign donation for this species,” Trezise said. “This demonstrates once again that the government isn’t investing enough in the protection of threatened species. We need a massive increase in investment if the government is to be credible on addressing Australia’s extinction crisis.”

A WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions spokesperson said the western ground parrot recovery team “is actively assessing potential translocation sites” and the department “is committed to the ongoing conservation and implementation of the recovery program for the western ground parrot.”

“Recovery actions, including fox and feral cat baiting, surveying and monitoring, remain an ongoing priority. The assistance of volunteers, including the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot, will continue to be vital in helping to deliver these and additional recovery actions,” the spokesperson said.


Lisa Cox

The GuardianTramp

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