Bowerbird collecting - update and comments

To: Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Bowerbird collecting - update and comments
From: Lloyd Nielsen <>
Date: Wed, 17 Jan 2001 09:54:14 +1000
Hi everybody,

(I have not heard about a rethink of Dr Days study re Bill Moorhead's posting -
however, I have had this written for a couple of days  and will post it anyway).

There has been considerable media coverage in Far North Queensland over the last
couple of weeks concerning the Bowerbird collecting/killing saga to which the 
general public have reacted angrily.  Consequently, QNPWS (EPA) have been 
to play down the situation and to try to justify the very bad decision made to 
the killing!  The main thrust has been by Peter Hesler (Wildlife Manager, 
and by Dr Julia Playford (Manager of QNPWS Research Cordination Unit, Brisbane).

Dr Playford issued a  statement (ABC radio - 11.1.01) that the taking was 
for this "important project" so that more can be learned about these bowerbrids 
their well being, adding that when no Australians were working on these birds,
American researchers were welcome.  Dr Playford stated that 'major checks and
balances' had been set in place (usual bureaucratic gobbledegook) and that the
decision was 'an informed one' (more gobbledegook).  The point was emphasised 
NO birds were being collected AT ALL from National Parks and that these birds 
not threatened or endangered in any way and were 'COMMON WILDLIFE'.

The statement that no birds were being collected from NPs was undoubtedly meant 
appease a worried public.  This is technically correct but the truth is that 
the two
upland species had to have been collected from World Heritage Rainforest - an 
we all thought was protected!  There is currently an application lodged to take 
Spotted Bowerbirds  from Taunton NP in central Queensland - a park established 
protect and study the endangered Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby.  No decision has 
reached on this but one wonders what would have happened had the collecting not 

Dr Playford is apparently relatively new to her postition and has a botanical
background.  To state that this study was of benefit to the birds displays a 
misunderstanding of the whole sorry saga.  In her attempt to tie this study
(originating from a Department of Psychology) to the welfare of the birds, it 
be remembered that "the main focus for the killing of these birds is said to be 
compare the brains of non-bower species with several bower-building species..." 
"for a study of  visual perception" (ref. Friths' Open Letter).

The department's line that the birds are not endangered or threatened and are
'common wildlife' also shows little understanding of the birds.  How a senior 
of the service can come to the conclusion that two upland bowerbird species
inhabiting a very narrow strip of rainforest no more than a few kilometres wide 
the most, along the high mountain range between Cooktown and Townsville and 
nowhere else on earth -  are 'common wildife', is amazing.   Sure, they are 
common in that relatively small area of habitat but there is a big difference
between 'common' and 'locally common' !  Compare Dr Playford's and Peter 
statements with the opinion of the Frith's,  who considered "killing seven adult
males of each species ("the minimal number of animals necessary for statistical
power" - per the application) as being unacceptable in the case of the upland
restricted Wet Tropics endemic bowerbird species".

Further, the Friths advised not to take birds during the breeding season - but 
WERE taken - the worst possible time for the species! This in itself 
no concern for the welfare of the birds!  One can rightly ask - why the 
opinions of
the Friths - the undoubted  authorities on bowerbirds with 23 years of intensive
study and experience - was not considered?   Another pertinent point is that if 
when global warming comes about, these birds of the narrow belt of cool upland
rainforests will probably be some of the first to be adversely effected.

This study looks more and more like a fairly selfish exercise in pure science 
by a
few American researchers with no concern for the welfare of the birds .  Take 
example an amendment to the permit submitted by the permit holder (Dr Day) on
11.9.00 to collect bowerbirds from 'PROTECTED' areas.  (One would assume that 
is from National Parks for it seems that parts of the World Heritage still 
by tenure other than National Park (defunct Timber Reserves etc) are open for
collecting).  To the NPWS's (EPA's) credit, this was refused.

As we saw, apparent red herrings were thrown in right from the begining e.g.
assisting captive breeding knowledge when it is known the birds breed readily in
captivity, assisting knowledge of Alzheimer's disease, debenture, menapause etc 
humans,which the ethics committees and NPWS apparently accepted.

Another point which seems odd (and maybe there is a logical explanation for it) 
the fact that the first application  was submitted to the ethics committee at 
JCU in
Townsville.  The amendments were submitted to the CSIRO ethics committee at
Atherton.  It may be just coincidence but Dr David Westcott, one of the later
signatories on the permit is apparently stationed at CSIRO Atherton.

It is obvious that there has been an attempt to keep the collecting not only 
the general public but the birding community in general, later resulting in
underhandedness, coverup, deceipt and even lies on the part of some people.   A
reliable an informed source recently related to me that the taking of the 
was to be kept 'under wraps' and would have succeeded except that a 
conversation by
certain people was overheard at  Ivy Cottage, Paluma (Mt Spec, NW of 
Townsville) -
perhaps the Townsville BOCA people are in a better postiion to clarify this.  If
this is correct, the collecting would have gone unnoticed had not that person 
on the spot at the time.

Most people agree that the blame seems to lie directly with ethics committees 
NPWS (EPA).  These sorts of exercises where science appears to overstep the 
mark and
which are in turn condoned by ethics committees and the Environmental Protection
Agency alienate not only the public (witness the current reaction from the local
general public) but other scientists as well.  Just last night I spoke with an
Australian and an American researcher  who both reacted in disbelief.  And 
quite a
number of  NPWS Officers are privately disgusted by the actions of their
department.  It makes a farce of the term Environmental Protection Agency (the 
recent name for the Queensland National Parks and Wildife Department!)

 One wonders how many other permits have been issued in secrecy?   Perhaps it is
high time to look at those which have been issued in the past!

Lloyd Nielsen,
Mt Molloy,
Mth Qld

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