Request for feathers and the law

To: <>, <>
Subject: Request for feathers and the law
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Sat, 31 Oct 2009 21:59:10 +1000
Hi Katarina,

    You wrote (30 Oct):

> SPAM or not. To me it is only a request for feathers - people worldwide
> collect all sorts of stuff and feathers are for sure one of those.
> Considering his age and that he obviously have been told about aussie
> feather rules I can admit it is a bit weird to send such a request again.
> But remember it is only(?) in Australia that it is illegal to collect
> feathers, even naturally moulted ones. Thats weird to me..........

Certainly not immediately obvious, but there is an explanation - at least
where Queensland is concerned.

As you may know, our peculiar Australian Constitution is such that laws
dealing with the protection of native wildlife must be made individually by
the various State Governments.  The Commonwealth Government can legislate to
protect birds only on Commonwealth controlled land such as the Australian
Capital Territory, or where relations with other nations are concerned.  So
each State has to have its own wildlife conservatiion laws.

Back in the first half of the 20th Century, many private individuals made
collections of eggs of native birds.  A person would find a nest with eggs
in it, take one or more of the eggs, drill a small hole in each end of the
egg so the contents could be removed - "blown" out - and then the empty
shell was added to the collection.

I'm sure you would agree that such a practice was undesirable unless there
was a good reason for the existence of the collection - for scientific
purposes for example, or for display in a public museum.   So a law in
Queensland (The Fauna Conservation Act) was enacted which included a
provision that made it illegal to have in one's possession any egg of a
native bird, unless a permit to do so had been granted under the Act.

Now at some stage it happened that a private individual was found to be in
possession of a substantial collection of eggs of native birds, for which
no permit had been obtained.  Prosecution ensued.

However the lawyer for the defendant successfully argued in court that an
egg-shell is not an egg.  Therefore his client was not in possession of any
eggs.  Acquitted.  Technically, no other decision was open to the court.

So the Act had to be amended to cover all such possibilities.

It's now more than twenty years since I retired from a position in the
Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service where I was dealing with such
matters, and things may have changed.  But I surmise not to any great
extent.  And I do have a copy of "The Nature Conservation Act 1992" which
replaced the legislation that previously covered such matters.

When dealing with the protection of native wildlife, it certainly tries to
cover all possibilities:

It defines "Animal" as meaning "any member of the animal kingdom (other than
human), whether alive or dead", and specifies that it "includes" (which
means is not restricted to) any:

    amphibian, or bird, or coral, or fish, or invertebrate, or mammal, or

as well as the whole or any part of -

    (i) the progeny, larvae, pupae, eggs or genetic or reproductive material
of an animal; and

    (ii)  the carcass or another part of an animal.

That should close all loopholes the legal fraternity might think up, at
least where animals are concerned?  I would have thought so.   But best to
be sure: so "carcass of an animal" is separately defined as "including":

    "its flesh, organs or body fluids; its feathers, hair, fur, skin,
scales, shell or exoskeleton; and its bones, horns, antlers, teeth or

That's for Queensland; I don't know the detail of what applies in other

And it is important to remember that such detail is there as a matter of
necessity to close potential legal loopholes where serious offences are

Pick up a moulted feather and stick it in your hat, and no government
officer is going to waste time seeking to have you prosecuted. (Though if
you were do so on a National Park, I reckon a Ranger would be justified in
asking you to leave the feather in the park ... and in recommending
prosecution for failure to comply with a lawful instruction, if you didn't
do so, after having the overall situation explained to you.)

However if, for example, you were found in possession of the full tail of a
mature lyrebird (extensively collected and traded in the 19th century),
successful prosecution could proceed without having to prove that you had
killed or interfered in any way with the actual lyrebird.

I apologise for the length of this posting, but hope it will help B-aus
subscribers to understand the need for what at times seems unnecessarily
detailed laws about actions that don't, at first sight, seem of any


        Syd Curtis (Brisbane)


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