ethics of chasing moulting penguins

To: Peter Lansley <>, Birding-Aus Mail <>
Subject: ethics of chasing moulting penguins
From: (Richard Johnson)
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2000 17:19:25 +1000
Hi Peter and everyone

Nice one, Peter. I was beginning to think that no-one thought my posting was worth the bother of a response.

Firstly, yes I am part of the dread public service. I'm an extension officer and God forbid that I should keep anyone in the dark! Mate, I know you're living in only-just-post-Kennett Victoria, but your cynicism about the public service generally is a bit unkind. By the way, I too can read email addresses and note that I have a foot in your camp, having been a member of RAOU/BA for 15 years. I would also add that my opinions are my own, and expect this is the same for you.

Secondly, I too have never met any birder that I thought would deliberately put a bird at risk, though I have heard some pretty dark stories. My paraphrasing was more about perceptions than reality. It's all too easy to be painted as the bad guy, and I think that Tony Palliser's message and even more so, Tony Russell's, could provide ammunition for people with an axe to grind. Remember, anyone can subscribe to birding-aus. Duck-hunting was once a perfectly acceptable practice - now it's banned in at least one State.  Are we birders beyond reproach? Could someone argue a case that we too are unacceptably exploiting birds? Do we do anything that might give that impression?

Your third point, about justification for moving the bird, is a good one. Tony P. said that he suspected that Parks staff had been told to move moulting penguins to protect them from dogs and cats. We might well add people to that list of dangers: recall if you will the infamous shearwater-bashing episode, involving some members of a school group camped on a Barrier Reef island not so long ago.
The questions arise: when is it necessary to move the bird? and, who is in the best position to judge this?

Let me raise a hypothetical, a la Geoffrey Robertson: a stray dog eats the penguin this evening, or perhaps some yobbo bashes its head in for fun. Apart from the immediate culprit, is anyone to blame for the birds fate? Was it preventable?

To go back to my original message, your local Parks people must be acting in good faith, responding to concerns about the penguins' safety - as Tony P. said, 'fair enough'. At the same time, a chance to see a wild Rockhopper doesn't come along all that often, I expect. It seems a bit sad to this distant observer that there seems to be a feeling that a bit of skullduggery is required to make sure that one group doesn't lose out to another. I suspect that the answers to the questions I just raised lie with experienced people in both the local parks staff and the wider birding community. Surely birders and rangers (or whatever you call them down there) could get together and work out a way to combine this expertise to objectively assess the risk to the birds and act accordingly, rather than be placed into opposing camps. It might be possible to come up with some novel solutions that satisfy everyone. Has anyone tried this? If not, why not?

As Peter said, "The welfare of the bird is paramount." For more detail on just what that means for the birder, I refer one and all to the Guidelines On Recreational Bird Watching, recently posted by Hugo Phillipps on this line, and no doubt available on request from Birds Australia. In particular, I refer to Guideline 3.1, which reads in part: "To be fully informed about the birds being watched requires an awareness of the ecology of the species including feeding, roosting and breeding activities and the conservation issues which affect the survival of the species. By making full use of the knowledge available, responsible birders should make every effort to minimise the impact of their activities on the species being observed."
I reckon the special requirements of moulting penguins belong squarely in there. The onus is on birders (like me, you and all of us) to follow that guideline. If that means working with other bodies, be they government or otherwise, to achieve optimal results for bird welfare, that's what we should do.

Anyway, on a lighter note, it seems that mobs of people are getting a look at the bird in question. I'd like to see a penguin, any penguin, one day!

Peter Lansley wrote:

Hi netters.

Just a few points in response to Richard Johnson's query/observations on

1. The welfare of the bird is paramount.

2. Of the hundreds of twitchers (for want of a better word - I reject this
kind of labelling) I've met in over more than 20 years of birding, I don't
believe any would deliberately harm a bird or place it in danger just to
'tick it off', as implied in Richard's hypothetical paraphrasing of Tony P's

3. Of course if the bird is visibly ill or clearly vulnerable to attack from
predators, it is justified to move it.

4. I can't understand Richard's concern about why birders should want to
keep the precice site under wraps. Surely the public service (which Richards
email address suggest he is part of) are experts at coming up with reasons
why the public should be kept in the dark? Why is it so different when info.
is withheld from possible misguided action by 'officials' - as Tony has
shown, this does happen from time to time, at taxpayers' expense I might add.

Peter Lansley
Birds Australia

415 Riversdale Rd, Hawthorn East, 3123
ph: (03) 9882 2622, Fax: (03) 9882 2677

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Richard Johnson
Roma District
Tel: (07) 4622 4266  Fax: (07) 46 22 4151

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