Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Quoll drawing by Thomas Watling from the Museum of Natural History, London
Australian marsupial mammals are under threat and only the free market can save them. Eh? It seems that our homegrown critters can't survive in the wild because of the encroachment of immigrant critters. Mmm... where have we heard this before?
A report soon to be released by DAFT (Department of Australian Furry Things) will propose that some species like the quoll (native cat), hopping mouse and sugar glider should be marketed to the public as 'environmentally sustainable' pets and even that citizens should be able to breed these little chaps themselves for fun and profit.
This represents a dramatic volte-face from the current position. So paranoid have Australian authorities been about human interaction with native species in the past that even saying 'shoo' to one was likely to get you into a lot of trouble. Sis Pants has possums in her roof and thinks that their presence is causing an allergic reaction but she isn't allowed to have them moved on. You can evict them apparently but you're not allowed to move them more than fifty metres from their 'habitat' so by the time you've walked back from the end of the street, they've already moved back into your house and changed the locks.
Why this unlikely revolution in perspective? Sounds like a case of 'too hard for us, you do it' to me. Whenever policy-makers are stumped for an answer, they always conclude 'the community is best placed to solve these problems'. By 'community' they mean everyone except the people who are actually being paid to do it.
Naturally, when one concocts these radical solutions, it's necessary to invent a guiding philosophy to legitimise them. Enter 'the market' which lately seems to be benefitting from the belief that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. ABC Radio National aired a programme this week unpacking the principle. The full transcript is here. I relate some of the highlights for your amusement.
The theory in a gumnut shell is that commodification bestows value and therefore a secure future.
According to Rosie Cooney, a researcher, lecturer and consultant on biodiversity conservation, the idea of what's called 'sustainable use' is still a very controversial notion when applied to wildlife. But she believes people are beginning to understand that valuing something economically almost always prevents it from disappearing. (ABC Radio National, Background Briefing transcript).
Rosie Cooney? C'mon.
It gets better. Apparently there is a big market for Australian sugar gliders in the USA with around 20,000 a year being sold. How did they get there if our native animal protection laws are so tough? Flew, I guess. Here's a little more on that,
University of New South Wales research student, Adrian Di Qual, decided to find out for himself. He started by securing an interview with America's top glider mogul, a tough-sounding former gumshoe called Virgil Klunders.
Virgil's operation, Perfect Pocket Pets, is based in Florida but send their gliders to new homes all over America, and most of the customer care happens over the internet, even down to well-timed advice via email. (ABC Radio National, Background Briefing transcript).
Adrian Di Qual? C'mon. An ex-gumshoe named Virgil Klunders? C'mon.
Noted Paleontologist Mike Archer, who once raised a quoll in his sock drawer, is an advocate of keeping sugar gliders as pets and waxes lyrical about his, er, relationship with one,
It would sleep in the bed underneath my arm and I'd look at that lovely little pink nose and closed eyes, so beautiful. But the first night that she came into the bed, I was asleep and suddenly I felt this very strange feeling on my head and a sound, it was going Slurp, Slurp, Slurp, and I thought, "What is that?" But you learn never to react till you work out what's happening. And, as I slowly came to terms with it, this beautiful glider had a hold of my ear with its two little hands and it was putting its tongue right down my ear! I have no idea why. (ABC Radio National, Background Briefing transcript).
He's a real person. I know this because I once worked with him years ago. It's a bit worrying when one of the country's leading mammalogists doesn't have any idea why a mammal would want to stick its tongue in your ear. Wax Mike?
Perfect Pocket Pets also does exist and there are several internet sites dedicated to warning people about its dodgy dealings. So why, in the face of very obvious concerns, do all our furry friends' fuzzy mates want us to start installing quoll flaps and turning our sock drawers into creches? Do they really think creating a fad for keeping a particular animal is sound conservation practice? Let me ask you this - when was the last time you saw an Afghan Hound?
Do I smell a kangaroo-rat? I need to further investigate. I've put in a call to Basil Brush PI. I'll get back to you.