I'm not sure of the accuracy of the facts reported in this article, but
I wasn't aware of the existence of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy
or the extent of its holdings ...
Smitten by a finch
Date: August 2 2003
By James Woodford
More than 40 years ago, Mike Fidler was walking down a bleak street in
Manchester when, through a pet shop window, he saw birds so colourful
they looked as though they had rolled in a rainbow.
Mr Fidler was late for a meeting, but he rushed inside and asked the
store owner: "Those birds in the window, what are they?"
"Gouldian finches," came the reply. He bought 10.
That moment changed Mr Fidler's life and, while he became a successful,
wealthy businessman in Britain, with his own chemical company, his
lifelong passion has been the Gouldian finch.
Today the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, a charity dedicated to
threatened species conservation, will officially announce that Mr
Fidler is donating $600,000 to help save the species in the wild and
restore populations to areas where the endangered birds once thrived.
One of the first outlays the conservancy has made with the new funds is
to headhunt from the Northern Territory Government the nation's leading
Gouldian finch expert, Dr Milton Lewis, to lead the charity's research
into the birds.
The tiny finches, named by the 19th century ornithologist John Gould in
memory of his wife, have become a hit with bird collectors, but in the
wild they are on the brink of extinction.
Once they lived across northern Australia. Now there are thought to be
fewer than 2000, and nowhere is there a colony of more than 250 birds,
making them extremely vulnerable to environmental changes.
Mr Fidler is famous in finch circles for being one of the first to
master the bird's husbandry, and at one stage he was breeding as many
as 3000 Gouldians a year.
He has written a book about the species and for the past 20 years has
funded and been involved with expeditions researching Gouldians in
their last strongholds in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
The main cause of the collapse in the bird's numbers is believed to be
large-scale, late dry season burning, which reduces the crops of native
grasses that the finches depend on to survive.
Other factors include degradation caused by grazing, a parasitic mite
and, especially in the past, trapping to meet the demands of the bird
The 312,000-hectare Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary in the Kimberley,
owned by the conservancy, will be the main focus of the research work.
"I feel compelled to try and save Gouldian finches," Mr Fidler said. "I
have spent half a lifetime studying and learning about them, and to
watch Gouldians die out in the wild would be tragic. We want to save
the Gouldians - that means reversing the decline. I see myself
definitively as a restorationist, not as a conservationist."
The conservancy's head, Atticus Fleming, said saving the Gouldian finch
was "core business" for the group. It owns a dozen properties,
totalling nearly 600,000 hectares and protecting threatened species
such as bilbies, bettongs and rock wallabies.
"Mike's donation . . . literally may save an endangered species," Mr
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