Bustards and apology

To: "Birding-aus" <>
Subject: Bustards and apology
From: "Robert Read" <>
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001 22:46:40 +0930
Dear John,

I am sorry that you have taken my posting as some sort of personal attack as
it was certainly not meant in that way.  I attempted to make it clear that I
was not directing criticism at any individual.  I clearly failed and I
apologise for this.  With the wisdom of hindsight I realise that should have
paraphrased element out of several postings rather than using an edited
quote and leaving your name out.

With regard to the rest of your message there are a few matters of fact that
I will address.  Bear in mind that I am referring specifically to the
southern NT, though notes from other correspondents suggest that the
situation is similar  in other remote semi-arid areas.

> Seen many rabbits lately?

Very few.  Alice Springs is roughly at the northern edge of the rabbit
invasion.  The rabbits got here about 100 years ago, have cycled up and down
with the seasons and declined sharply about 5 years ago because of
calici-virus.  It is quite likely that the bustards suffered from the advent
of  the rabbit, but hard to see how rabbits could have caused the rapid
decline seen in the last 20 years.   As far as I can see there is no
difference in bustard numbers in areas with and wihout rabbits.

Likewise cattle were brought in in the late 19th century.  Numbers peaked in
the mid 1950's, declined with the drought, peaked again in the mid 1970's
with good seasons and the collapse of the US export beef market.  Cattle
numbers in the southern NT have decreased substantially over the last 20

are we positive
> about what we have done? 100 per cent positive that
> is?
We can never be 100 per cent positive.  If we wait until we are it will be
too late.  The fact that there has been a sharp decline corresponding to a
period of increased hunting pressure is highly suggestive.  Bustards may
have been under pressure from grazing, feral animals, changed
fire-frequencies and other factors that we have not recognised.
Un-controlled hunting could easily push them over the edge.

> Keep killing enough birds and guess what? birds will
> disappear as if by magic from THAT area but only THAT
> area.

If the area in which bustards are killed is wide enough we will have a
regional extinction.  As noted by some correspondents bustards in this
region are most numerous in the Tanami and Simpson Deserts, very remote
areas with no roads.  They are absent from well-visited areas and sparse in
quite remote pastoral areas.  This distribution is consistent with a decline
due to hunting.
The density of tracks in the pastoral areas may well be enough to allow
regional extinction of the bustards.

In the last 4 years I have travelled thousands of kilometres on outback
roads, spent weeks working and camping in out of the way spots and done
numerous bird searches for the Atlas.  In this time I have seen only one
bustard and some piles of feathers. In similar travels in the 70's I would
have seen 10 or 20.

Robert Read
Alice Springs
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