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Carnabys in crisis

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Dean Arthurell

Carnaby Cockatoos are one of 3 endangered black cockatoo species found in WA’s South West. Unlike their almost identical forest dwelling cousins, the Baudin and the iconic and unmistakeable Forest Redtail Black Cockatoos, Carnaby Cockatoos have thus far shown great capacity to adapt. Carnabys have adapted to habitat loss, dwindling food resources, and a lack of viable natural hollows thanks to the evolution of Artificial breeding Tubes and Hollows. Carnabys range North of Kalbarri to East of Esperance, and are known to move hundreds of kilometres inland during breeding season to remaining patches of viable breeding habitat. The Baudin and Redtail cockatoos are essentially forest dwelling, and therefore their outlook is as bleak as our remaining forest habitat. Since colonisation of WA, around 90% of our native forests have been removed, making the remaining habitat incredibly important to the survival of all our native birds and animals.

Carnabys, and to a lesser extent Baudins and Redtails have identified several introduced plant species to supplement their dwindling native food resources in urban and rural settings. Introduced Pine plantations established in the 1920’s have progressively replaced banksia woodland as a major food source for the cockatoos in the greater Perth region, mitigating some of the loss of native habitat. Carnabys have come to rely heavily on these plantations which make up almost 60% of the total food resources available to black cockatoos, as well as being their largest roost site on the Swan Coastal Plain. Black Cockatoos are now facing starvation due to the decision by the State government to remove all remaining mature pine in the Gnangara, Pinjar and Yanchep pine plantations by 2025/2026. This has been ratified by the Environmental Protection Authority, unfortunately.

The Shire of Chittering is a stronghold for the Carnaby Black Cockatoos with both good native food resources and viable natural hollows scattered across the region. With roost sites in Gingin and Toodyay, both the Avon and Chittering regions see an annual migration of Carnabys arriving for breeding season around July and August. The addition of artificial hollows has been hugely successful in increasing breeding attempts over the past 10 or so years. Native Eucalypts reach maturity at around 200 years which is the rough timeframe required for these trees to form large hollows suitable for Carnabys. Removal of mature eucalypts is therefore devastating to the breeding and foraging resources of black cockatoos. This is apparently lost on the majority of our current Chittering Shire Councillors who voted to remove 3 heritage listed Marri Trees at the new Muchea Sporting Complex. Councillors favoured 5 netball courts over a 4-court development which would have seen the 100+ year old trees remain. The good people of Gingin and Bindoon vociferously opposed this plan, and informed the Council of the devastating outcomes to our fauna should this go ahead. It went ahead. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, “They paved paradise and put up a netball court.”

The environment is already the most significant challenge for mankind and our wildlife. All the available science tells us we need to make drastic changes in order to save the planet and prevent existing ecosystems collapsing, yet our governments and politicians chase re-election over reality, and to be fair so do we. One of my idols Rick Dawson said “if we can’t save Carnabys, we can’t save anything.” Our ever-increasing population drives consumption of resources and available land, continually pushing more and more species towards extinction. As consumers, we all have the power to make change in this democratic system. Consumers control everything if…… we’re brave and smart enough to mitigate greed and laziness.

Most Western Australians support the ideology of saving Carnabys from extinction. We fall in love with their beauty, their majesty, celebrate their presence, resilience, and their role in our ecosystem. The documentary Black Cockatoo Crisis by filmmaker Jane Hammond has given a concise account of our impact and the current direction of government, people over all else. The solutions are in fact easy, the decision to act and change is the hard part.

If you wish to help our local Carnaby’s continue to live in our lovely land, you could plant our native species in your garden. Cockatoos need Hakea, Grevillia, Banksia and Marri trees for food. If you plant them in your garden, you may be lucky enough to attract black cockatoos! Already have black cockatoos on your rural property? Then why not install an artificial Hollow? Get in touch, visit our website; carnabyscrusaders.com.au and chitteringwildlifecarers.org.au or our Facebook page for more information.