Many years ago one of Tasmania’s most unique animals was hunted to death, its carcasses displayed on fence-posts as a warning to others of its kin – stay away.
The Tasmanian tiger stands in our history as a poignant emblem of human interference and destruction.
Last year, I wrote an article about the tiger for this newspaper’s 175th anniversary.
Digging into The Examiner’s archives, I discovered a stack of letters to the editor written about the mysterious thylacine.
One man, writing just a few years after the tiger was officially declared extinct in 1936, wrote about shooting the creatures and skinning their carcasses.
His dismissive words implied the tigers were no great loss and there were plenty still hiding out in the North-Western wilderness.
What struck me about that letter was the proximity of history: how a Tasmanian man living in the 1930s was unaware he had seen the end of an entire species.
One tiger more or less, what’s the difference?
Such an argument would have been familiar in those last few years of the tiger’s survival, when governments and scientists were only just beginning to realise what was about to be permanently lost.
How could you possibly turn an entire community’s mind away from hunting a species into extinction, blaming it for livestock deaths and thievery, to active conservation?
In Tasmania, we still have a remarkable number of unique creatures. Perhaps my favourite is the orange-bellied parrot.
It’s just a bird, you could say. Just another parrot with some pretty colouring and not much else to recommend it.
But for years, a determined group of conservationists – volunteer and government, local and national – have worked to protect this little bird from quietly slipping away.
Each year, volunteers spend weeks at a time in remote Melaleuca watching these parrots feed, fly and breed.
The orange-bellied parrot makes its annual pilgrimage from Victoria to Tasmania, searching for a safe haven.
Only a handful of wild-born female parrots returned to Tasmania this year to breed, prompting a new approach to protect the precious juveniles.
This season, some parrots were transported directly back to Victoria, instead of risking their own wings, and some will be kept in captivity throughout winter.
A number of birds were released into the wild near Geelong this week, where they will be religiously tracked and monitored.
The orange-bellied parrot faces another hopeful year: will it expand its population, or diminish? Will conservationists have something to celebrate, or decry?
In our efforts to address our impact on the planet and its species, over the years we’ve established many long-running, hard-working conservation programs – but we don’t always fund them sufficiently.
We set up public fundraisers to help solve diseases destroying other rare creatures – relying on goodwill and sympathy.
I held my breath through every update during this year’s orange-bellied parrot breeding season, wondering if I might be witness to the end of a species, just as a letter-writer in the 1930s unwittingly marked the loss of the thylacine.
The determination of conservationists and scientists has kept this parrot alive and flying across Bass Strait for years.
Let’s hope we continue to celebrate the existence of a rare and beautiful bird, and not mark its extinction.