Re:Australian Bustard Decline

To: "Peter Cheuwon" <>
Subject: Re:Australian Bustard Decline
From: "Scott O'Keeffe" <>
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2001 12:35:53 +1000

You wrote:

<There does isn't much evidence that Bustards have actually declined
recently or even
during the past 40 years, except perhaps near the extremity of their range
close to
denser, human population areas.  It is more likely
that they are holding their own in most areas although I agree, we must be
vigilant.  What are the Atlas comparisons?>

There seems to me little evidence, other than anecdotal, as to the status of
the Bustards over areas of their range which are more remote and less
accessible. I suggest that the information just hasn't been collected.  None
of the statements that have appeared in this discussion provide sufficient
basis for making sweeping statements about the status of bustards in the
places under discussion.  Additional, systematically collected information
might be available, but it has not been alluded to in the discussion so far.
However, since there is good historical evidence for declines in many areas,
this should alert us to the possibility of further declines.  The concern
expressed in the discussion is warranted in the light of historical
evidence.  The historical evidence does not justify complacency.  Neither
are simplistic "solutions" warranted. As far as there being little evidence
of decline anywhere except at the extremities of range, I do not accept
this.  For example, a paper by Smith and Smith (1994) found that in the
Western division of NSW,  the range of the Bustard has contracted
significantly, and within this reduced area of distribution, the birds are
mostly non-breeding visitors.  I would also add that changes at the
extremities of range, or near areas of human population are not necessarily
insignificant. Such declines may be very revealing.  They should be alerting
us, in the first case, to the possibility of more widespread declines, and
in the second case, to the sources of decline attributable to human

<...Bustards are "slow breeders".   Normally a few years
old before they are successful, they lay only one egg when good seasonal
occur, so their reproductive potential is low compared to many other birds,
such as
most other waterfowl.>

Exactly.  Fauna with low reproductive potential may be particularly
vulnerable to a variety of stresses, such as predation by exotic animals.
In those animals which have a relatively long lifespan, declines may not be
immediately evident, but populations may suddenly crash.  Do we know for
sure whether this is a possibility with Bustards?

<Its possible that increased predation is occurring where rabbits have
declined due to
the introduction of Caleci Virus.  The recent biological control of rabbits
removed a major food source for foxes, cats and dingoes, but lets not jump
the gun
here, lets have a proper look first.>

That is precisely what I am arguing.  I am certainly not jumping the gun,
but others may already have decided that the gun isn't worth bothering
about, or that it is the source of all evil. By all means, let us have a
proper, well thought out look, and lets not take forever to do it.  I am not
arguing for endless research, a trap which is easy to fall into.  But, we
should also avoid making the mistake of jumping to so called "obvious"
conclusions.  The ecology of the natural world is not always simply
intuitive, though it is often treated as though it is, even by well-meaning
conservationists.  (No, this is not preaching from the moral high ground.
I've foolishly jumped to conclusions myself on occasion.)  Lets look at the
issue of foxes and rabbits.  In some places, rabbits have almost completely
transformed landscapes.  In these areas, it would be reasonable to wonder
whether rabbits have had a very direct impact on a variety of native fauna,
including, perhaps, Bustards.  Tempting then to suggest a massive control
program for rabbits.  If this is done in a simplistic way, as pest
management sometimes is, we may be surprised by the outcome.  Perhaps foxes
will take more bustards or bustard eggs if rabbits decline.  But would this
be significant?  Would there be a net gain or reduction in Bustards by
controlling only rabbits?  What would be the outcome if both rabbits and
foxes were controlled?

< What actions are you suggesting Scott when you
say to apply the "precautionary principle" to Bustard conservation?  How
about giving
us some examples.>

The example I have just given demonstrates the need for adopting the
precautionary principle.  In this very specific instance, the precautionary
principle suggests that we do not promote simple rabbit or fox control as
THE correct measure for conserving Bustards, or put all our conservation
resources into this approach until it is proven effective.  There are many
instances where jumping the gun, and adopting what seems an obvious
solution, has been counterproductive.  On possible way to resolve the foxes
and rabbits issue, is to do some limited trials in the field.  Exclude
rabbits only.  Exclude foxes only.  Exclude both.  Measure the impacts on
bustards.  For the sake of brevity, this is a simplistic description.

The precautionary principle in relation to hunting?  Moral issues of animal
welfare aside, and looking only at maintaining viable populations of
bustard, hunting potentially has two outcomes for bustard populations.  They
could either remain unchanged, or  they could decrease.  Hunting will not
increase bustard populations.  On this basis, the precautionary principle
suggests that we do not promote or sanction hunting until we know what the
impact of hunting might be.  From a conservation perspective, applying the
precautionary principle means that we should not undertake any action with a
potential for harm,  as long as refraining from this action does not also
have the potential to cause harm.  Put more simply, if the bustards are not
hurt by not hunting, why risk hunting them if we don't know what impact that
might have?  Thus, hunting should only occur if and when it is demonstrated
that it has no significant impact.  It is not rational to suggest we assume
hunting is harmless and continue doing it until someone can prove otherwise.
Conservationists and those working to protect cultural traditions are both
served well by adopting this precautionary approach, because once they are
gone, they are gone for conservationists and hunters.

-----Original Message-----
From: Peter Cheuwon 
Sent: 13 March 2001 00:26
To: Scott O'Keeffe
Cc: ; 
Subject: Re:Australian Bustard Decline

Birding-Aus is on the Web at
To unsubscribe from this mailing list, send the message
"unsubscribe birding-aus" (no quotes, no Subject line)

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU