Australian Wildlife Conservancy continues to amaze everyone. They announced in the last couple of days that they've purchased Marion Downs in the Kimberly, next to their Mornington Sanctuary. A couple of weeks ago, AWC's founder Martin Copley was listed as one of Australia's "most inspiring" by a national paper and a couple of years ago the organisation won the Prime Minister's Environmentalist of the Year Prize.
So what's the secret of this private conservation group?
Last week, I was privileged to tour their Scotia Sanctuary in far west New South Wales and get a peak into the group. (Better declare a conflict on interest - AWC's Chief Executive Atticus Fleming is on my Board). It was immediately apparent to me that AWC has some fantastic things going for it:
- Committed staff that are knowledgeable and feel part of something important. I'm not sure who selects AWC staff, but they shouldn't change a thing. Pest Animal Control Officer at Scotia, Tony Cathcart addressed my Board and is one of those guys with a rare combination of field skills (we got a brilliant account of the 187 traps days to get the last cat on Scotia), record keeping, scientific knowledge and an ability to relate the whole package to others.
- A business approach to wildlife. I'm not sure that I'm describing things correctly but the largely business-skilled Board at AWC obviously requires high levels of monitoring and performance review. The measurement of performance goes past what is normally possible on public lands. But the business model is a not-for-profit one (Scotia and a few of the other Sanctuaries were bought after the collapse of the for-profit Earth Sanctuaries) - so it is business-like with a view to costs and performance but with the purpose of conserving wildlife, not making money.
- Good sanctuary selection. AWC has gone for large sanctuaries, usually in fairly good condition on purchase and usually with key species for conservation. Many of their sanctuaries link national parks.
I got to see my first Bilbie's in the wild, as well as boodies (Burrowing Bettong) and mala (Rufous hare-wallaby). I missed seeing the woylies (Brush-tailed Bettongs) and only saw the nest of the Stick-Nest rat, which was surprisingly large. As horrible as it sounds, I can understand an exhausted explorer or drover being grateful to find a stick-nest at the end of the day and building a fire on it - it really looks like someone has got the kindling together.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy is funded by private donations. Having visited and seen their work first-hand, I feel terrific about my small monthly donation. Scotia is not open for public visits, but some of AWC's other sanctuaries are - see their website www.awc.org.au/