Wildlife to be leased to private land owners in bid to save threatened species

By Victoria Ticha 21 October 2016
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Under a proposed new trial, private property owners could help protect Australia’s endangered species – and the idea has gained the support of entrepreneur and AG founder Dick Smith.

RESEARCHERS HAVE proposed trialling a program in which the government would lease endangered wildlife to private land owners, with the aim of improving the biodiversity of severely degraded habitats.

Lead researcher George Wilson, a conservation biologist and wildlife manager from the Australian National University in Canberra, said that keeping vulnerable animals such as koalas, Tasmanian devils, rock wallabies, bettongs and bandicoots on private property would shelter them from cats, foxes, agriculture and other rising threats.

For example, “golf courses that have suitable trees and provide protection from dogs would welcome the opportunity to breed koalas,” he said.

Under the proposed trial, private landowners could obtain species from areas where they are overpopulated, breed them and then release them back into parts of the wild where their numbers are dwindling.

“The size of the conservation habitats on private lands would increase and so contribute more to national biodiversity targets,” George said.

While the government would still be required to regulate the leasehold arrangements and animal welfare issues, they would no longer acts as the sole managers of endangered wildlife. 

Dick Smith, founder of Dick Smith Electronics and Australian Geographic, said the initiative was a brilliant idea and one he would support all the way. “This is lateral thinking at its best,” he said.

The proposal stems from an international study that has already proved successful in South Africa, where private ownership, regular price incentives, decentralised responsibility for wildlife management and effective regulation has already increased the endangered populations of many iconic species and ensured the survival of their habitats.

“It’s worked so well, once people have a vested interest in looking after the animals then they will keep doing it,” said George.

“Although wildlife management in southern Africa has different aims, success there suggests that the approach is worth trialling in Australia,” he added.

If the trial were to go ahead, then many golf courses and farms would become crucial sanctuaries for endangered wildlife.