Discoveries of rare and endangered animals in Australia’s remote deserts have prompted mini tourism booms, but they are also causing some headaches for local Aboriginal rangers and their conservation efforts.
Bird obsessives, known as twitchers, have descended on remote sites in the wake of rare parrot sightings, such as the rediscovery of the princess parrot by rangers in 2012 in the Northern Territory.
“The scientists got really happy because it was the first one around that area, followed by all the birdwatchers,” said Anangu Luritjiku ranger Terrence Abbott.
“They wanted more details, so we tried to make it sort of secret at first because we didn’t want everyone arriving on a big bus.”
But the location soon leaked and lit up birdwatching chat pages online — and the twitchers started to arrive.
“We’ve got a permit system out there, but these ones here were illegal visitors without a permit.”
“When we went out there to patrol the area, we saw one tourist with a ladder on the top of his car, so we went and had a chat with him,” Mr Abbott said.
It’s a growing issue in areas where local Aboriginal rangers are making regular scientific breakthroughs, documenting the presence of animals thought to be extinct or only found in small geographical pockets.
The discoveries often come on Aboriginal-owned land where visitors — campers, fishermen or animal enthusiasts — require a permit to enter, something the rangers said many tourists did not realise.
The number of permit systems is growing in outback Australia; there are six in the Kimberley region of Western Australia alone, with most costing less than $50, including camping.
Bird-related tourism boom
Animal-inspired spike in tourism have helped fund ranger work and create local jobs.
After the night parrot — so rare it’s been referred to as the million-dollar bird — was photographed in the Great Sandy Desert in 2017, the number of visitor permits sold jumped 80 per cent.
Paruku head ranger Jamie Brown said they kept the news quiet for awhile to make sure the birds were protected.
“We were really worried because we didn’t want a big impact of lots of people coming in, and we didn’t know how to manage all of them as well as the bird,” he said.
“These twitchers, they love all sorts of birds, and this is a really rare one, so we could have a big run of people if we’d put it out straight away.”
“Most people who visit here do the right thing, they get their permit and they are respectful.
“Being a ranger is really good — it’s not just about the animals, we are getting more young people in to work with us and get out on country and learn from the old people.”