Australia's varied and colourful birdlife is being threatened. Already urban growth and farmland development have?
SV: Cockatoos in tree. (3 shots)
SV INTERIOR: Customs officer examining suitcase and packaging for bird smuggling. (4 shots)
CU: Dead bird in small basket.
SV: Trees in breeding area. (2 shots)
SV: ranger David Mell up tree.
CU: New born parrot in nest.
SV: Ranger among trees in nesting area.
SV: Native birds and chickens. (7 shots)
SV ZOOM IN: Ranger pointing out looted nests. (4 shots)
SV AND GV: Native birds in trees. (4 shots)
TRANSCRIPT: WOOD: "The illegal export of native birds from Australia is not new. .There has been sporadic publicity about the problem for some years. What is new is that the practise has reached alarming proportions. This suitcase was taken from an international aircraft at Perth airport. It is fairly typical of those used for bird smuggling. The birds are bound with masking tape, sometimes drugged, and then encased in wire or wicker baskets which are wrapped in foam rubber sheeting to kill noise. The case even has pieces of wood glued into it to provide weight. The great tragedy of this type of set-up is that in most cases more than eighty percent of the birds will be dead before they reach their destinations. The effects of the unpressurised cargo locker, the drugging and suffocation, all take their toll, as does the masking tape. The Geraldton region of Western Australia is one of the largest breeding areas for native parrots. During spring and summer each year, thousands of birds pair off for breeding in the hollow tree-trunks in the area.
It is a busy time too for ranger David Mell. He is the only wildlife ranger in the district and it is his job to keep an eye on the nesting birds and particularly to make sure the nests are not interfered with.
The entire area covered David Mell is about eight percent of the entire state of West Australia. He spends most days of the week on the road, travelling from one nesting area to another, checking on the birds and looking for the tell-gale signs of the nest robbers. But it is a hit and miss business.
One of the policing problems faced by rangers is that they are never sure just where the birds taken from the nests will finish up. Some they know are smuggled overseas, but others can be sold anywhere within the state or inter-state. There is no one particular destination. The young chicks can be distributed through any number of small country towns. It is such a major problem that at times during the breeding season, rangers are forced to put up road blocks and search vehicles, particularly those carrying ladders. The sale of native parrots can be so profitable that nest robbers will go to extraordinary lengths just to get the birds."
MELL: "Some of these nests are in excess of thirty and forty feet (10 and 13 metres) high. They use aluminium ladders and rope ladders to get to them, they have used chain saws to cut out the hollows, they even use axes and small machetes to chop into the hollow. The birds are even occasionally removed by hooking them out with a piece of wire or even a rope noose put over the bird's head and dragged back out of the hollow".
WOOD: "Do you find many dead birds being left by the thieves?"
MELL: "No, in fact they are pretty efficient. When they do get into a tree they take whatever is there."
WOOD: "Nest robbing can be a profitable business. In the United States the common pink and grey Galah can fetch between four and five hundred dollars (two hundred). Some of the more exotic varieties of Australian parrot will get even more. Wildlife rangers like David Mell are picking up more and more of the nest robbers every year but the number of people involved in the business also seems to be growing."
REPORTER: BRENDAN WOOD
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: Australia's varied and colourful birdlife is being threatened. Already urban growth and farmland development have reduced the numbers of birds to such an extent that some species are recognised as endangered. Now there's another problem: nest robbers. The native parrot is highly prized by bird fanciers both within Australia and overseas, and stealing them from their nests and smuggling them has become common and lucrative. The ABC's Brendan Wood reports.