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Abandonment of bird program divides wildlife -

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Abandonment of bird program divides wildlife experts

After weeks of speculation the Queensland Government has confirmed it is stopping a captive
breeding program for one of Australia's rarest birds - the Eastern Bristlebird.

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: After weeks of speculation, the Queensland Government has confirmed that
it is stopping a captive breeding program for one of Australia's rarest birds.

The Eastern Bristlebird is considered by many bird watchers to be an iconic species, renowned for
its beautiful song and feisty manner.

A sub-species of this bird found on the New South Wales-Queensland border is close to extinction,
with as few as 50 left in the wild.

Queensland's decision not to continue with its captive breeding program has divided wildlife
experts, and prompted a debate over what is the most effective way to manage endangered species.

Peter McCutcheon reports.

PETER MCCUTCHEON, REPORTER: Every day for the past four years Queensland wildlife officers have
been tending to a very precious flock.

This is where the Eastern Bristlebird, one of Australia's rarest species, is bred in captivity.

SHEENA GILLMAN, BIRDS QUEENSLAND: Captive breeding is a last resort. However, we are so anxious
about this bird that it probably, really, is very, very important for the future of birds in these
ranges.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: But this program has fallen out of favour with Queensland's Environment
Department.

REBECCA WILLIAMS, QLD ENVIRONMENT DEPT: We're ceasing that for the time being. We've shifted our
focus to looking at what's happening on the ground.

JOHN YOUNG, NATURALIST: Wherever there's gene pool left with the bird, we should be doing something
about it. I don't care what the Government says.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Debate over the future of the Eastern Bristlebird raises questions about managing
endangered species and the value of captive breeding programs.

Does the Queensland Environment Department face a real dilemma here?

DES BOYLAND, WILDLIFE QUEENSLAND: They certainly have, they always have, they never have enough
money.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The northern subspecies of the Eastern Bristlebird is found mainly in mountain
country around the New South Wales-Queensland border.

There may be as few as 50 left in the wild, and Sheena Gillman from Birds Queensland knows how to
find them.

So I guess you have to do a lot of walking if you're keen on finding a Eastern Bristlebird.

SHEENA GILLMAN: You certainly do.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: What sort of reputation does Bristlebird have amongst bird watchers in
Queensland?

SHEENA GILLMAN: Special, a gutsy little bird with lots of character.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Gutsy?

SHEENA GILLMAN: Definitely gutsy.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Sheena Gillman tries to attract the elusive bird with a recorded bird song. But
we've been warned it can take many hours to catch even the faintest of glimpses.

We played that song for a few minutes, can't hear any response.

SHEENA GILLMAN: No.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: And it's not surprising, though, is it?

SHEENA GILLMAN: That's partly the time of year, of course.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The easiest way of seeing an Eastern Bristlebird is watching video footage taken
by naturalist and wildlife photographer John Young.

JOHN YOUNG: I don't ever want to see a bird down in such low numbers disappear. I'd like to think
my grandchildren will be able to walk around the hills and still hear that bird.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: John Young has a strong interest in Queensland's captive breeding program. He
collected the young birds from the wild, handing them over to Fleay's Wildlife Park on the Gold
Coast.

JOHN YOUNG: Get on with it, as far as I'm concerned because that bird is too important.

REBECCA WILLIAMS: That program is definitely on pause. And like most programs, when we started, it
was an experiment.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Queensland's director of threatened species, Rebecca Williams, explains resources
will now go into protecting Eastern Bristlebird habitat rather than breeding them in captivity.

REBECCA WILLIAMS: No one, I think, has an open chequebook these days. So it's about working with
partners and doing the best we can; the most strategic and best return for our dollars.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: So it comes down to money, it costs too much.

REBECCA WILLIAMS: It's not a cost too much for that, it's just wise use of money. It is, what are
we going to get the best benefit from?

PETER MCCUTCHEON: But supporters of captive breeding argue a wonderful resource is being wasted.

SHEENA GILLMAN: The facilities already there, a lot of the major expenditure has been spent. To
maintain the captive breeding would not take so much more money now.

REBECCA WILLIAMS: It's very labour intensive.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: So how much does it cost?

REBECCA WILLIAMS: I would - I haven't actually done the straight figures, but I believe it's about
one full-time equivalent, and you're talking about $100,000 a year.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: I've seen figures of $3.50 per bird, per day. Is that really a lot to spend to
save a species?

REBECCA WILLIAMS: I think that $3.50 per bird, per day is also very well spent if you're doing good
fire management and pig control and fox control.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: One person who has firsthand experience of the dilemma facing Queensland wildlife
authorities is former Environment Department bureaucrat Des Boyland, who now heads the Queensland
Wildlife Preservation Society.

DES BOYLAND, WILDLIFE QUEENSLAND: Are they going to spend money on the red slug, or the Bogamore
snail. No, because they're not cute and cuddly.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: So there's a competition between species on how much of the Budget they get?

DES BOYLAND: Most certainly.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: With more than 250 endangered species, Des Boyland prefers investment in habitat
protection.

DES BOYLAND: It's a question of priorities, and the priority must be the extension of the existing
protected area estate and its appropriate management.

JOHN YOUNG: We can manage habitat as much as we like, but I think the big thing with the
Bristlebird at the moment, that if we don't do something within another five years, they won't be
there.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Eight Eastern Bristlebird have now been bred in captivity and returned to the
wild. But these will probably be the last.

The NSW Government says it's disappointed the program has been stopped, but Queensland argues it
can't do everything.

Nearly $0.5-million has been spent on this captive breeding program already. Can we really afford
to stop it?

REBECCA WILLIAMS: Because you've spent X on something doesn't mean that you continue to spend it.
You should always pause and go, "Is this still the right strategy?"

JOHN YOUNG: If we're going to start on something, let's not waste taxpayers' money, let's not even
get started if we're going to pull the plug halfway through.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I'm sure the Bristlebird understands. Peter McCutcheon with that report.