Paul Butler, senior VP, global programs, reports on his trip to Australia.
My first trip to Australia was several years ago. It is a spectacular continent. So empty of people, yet so full of life. Australia is one of the biologically richest parts of the world. It has been recognized by the UN as one of 12 “mega-diverse” countries on earth and has more than twice the number of endemic species as other mega-diverse nations. Eighty-two percent of Australia’s mammals, 45 percent of its terrestrial birds, 85 percent of its flowering plants, 89 percent of its reptiles and 93 percent of its frogs are to be found nowhere else on the planet. Australia also is home to some 400,000 indigenous Australians (Aborigines and Torres Straits Islanders) who were the first human inhabitants, arriving there some 40,000-70,000 years ago.
[photopress:Rabbit_Proof_Fence_1.jpg,thumb,alignleft]Sadly, this continent’s incredible diversity is under threat from clearing (for agriculture, development and mining), land conversion to pasture, invasive plants and animals, changed fire regimes, and increasing salinity, as well as fragmentation. Its indigenous population has fared poorly too. Diseases introduced by colonizing settlers, loss of land, massacres, and even the removal of children for “resettlement” decimated and fragmented the population. (Watch Phillip Noyce’s film Rabbit-Proof Fence)
It was during my initial trip to Australia that I met my first “Aborigine.” It was in Alice Springs and sadly the gentleman in question was drunk and abusive. It was not a great impression of a people whose history dates back to the dawn of time.
I have just returned from a two-week trip to Australia — thanks to the Nature Conservancy — to look at conservation efforts under way and to see what, if any, role Rare might play in assisting with its Pride program.
[photopress:Eugene_Eades_1.jpg,thumb,alignleft]This time I met some truly inspiring Aborigines. I was moved by their stories, empowered by their outlook on planet Earth and in awe at their commitment to the land. I met Eugene Eades (at left), who works in Southwest Australia on the “Gondwana Link Project”. This project aims to secure and restore a 1000-km (620-mile) swath of ecologically functional habitat between the wet forests of the southwest of Western Australia and the woodlands of the Goldfields/Norseman region, via a series of interlinked reserves. Though it only covers 2% of the Australian land mass, the Gondwana Link project area contains 25% of the country’s plant species!
The Nature Conservancy provided start-up funding for the Gondwana Link Project [photopress:Gondwana_Link_1_2.jpg,thumb,alignleft]with a $1 million grant and continues to provide strategic, business, and conservation planning support to it.
I also met Joe Morrison of The North Australian Indigenous Land & Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) which is a bio-regional forum for indigenous land and sea managers across northern Australia. NAILSMA is striving to build indigenous capacities, support customary management regimes, provide training and generally support indigenous land and sea management with an emphasis on practical management by Traditional Owners. Joe is another deeply committed individual with a vision for “his people.”
I was excited to see and learn more and to try to help.