A senior researcher and expert in the critically endangered Orange-Bellied Parrot conservation program says volunteer conservationists have been restricted from passing along daily information on the success of the bird’s latest migration back to Tasmania.
However, a Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment spokesperson denied that volunteers monitoring the migration have been gagged, saying they are asked to provide information on “certain events” to the department first, such as the return of captive-bred birds.
Mark Holdsworth, one of the most experienced researchers involved in the conservation program for more than 20 years, said an apparent policy change this week meant he has had no information for two days about whether any female parrots had successfully returned to their home breeding grounds in Melaleuca.
Just 20 of the critically endangered parrots are expected to make the return trip from Victoria and South Australia this year.
Only 10 males have safely arrived in Tasmania so far. If no females arrive, the bird will be functionally extinct.
Mr Holdsworth said this week volunteers were instructed to only provide information to DPIPWE, leaving senior researchers waiting for irregular departmental releases to find out how many birds have survived.
He said the Friends of the Orange-Bellied Parrot group source between 30 to 40 volunteers each year for DPIPWE’s conservation program.
The volunteers spend fortnightly blocks in pairs monitoring the migration of the parrot out in the South-West Wilderness, and would previously send their observations back to both the department and researchers daily.
“It’s a big change, I’ve been involved in the program for a long time and through Friends of Orange-Bellied Parrot, and pass on quite willingly when new things happen, either good or bad,” he said. “The department have put a clamp-down on the flow of information except through their official channels.”
Mr Holdsworth said he hoped the policy change was “just a glitch” that would not affect the flow of information about the success or failure of the parrot’s migration to the public.
The DPIPWE spokesperson said the request to volunteers did not restrict them sharing information on the number or gender of birds arriving.
“This is also to ensure it is accurate so the public can get a full and factual picture of what is going on at Melaleuca,” the spokesperson said.
Researchers from the Australian National University will return to Melaleuca in the next few weeks and provide immediate updates on the fate of the birds.