The luck of three seriously endangered birds Down Under may be changing thanks to two unlikely sources: the Internet and goodwill of roughly 1,075 (and counting) strangers. On April 1, a crowd-funding project designed to help the Swift Parrot, the Orange-bellied Parrot, and the Forty-spotted Pardalote launched on the site Pozible to immediate success. By day three the initial goal of A$40,000 ($31,626 USD) was shattered and things haven’t slowed down since. By press time, the project had raised A$65,070 ($51,882 USD), and funding won’t end until May 31.
All three species share the same arch nemesis—the cute but destructive sugar glider possum. In the one hundred odd years since its introduction to the region, the night prowler has developed a taste for native birds, with devastating effects for indigenous populations.
In some areas, sugar gliders kill one hundred percent of nesting females—which researchers discovered after setting up nest cams, says Dejan Stojanovic, a postdoctoral fellow at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, part of the Australian National University, and one of the project’s founders. After placing the cameras, Stojanovic found that in some areas sugar-gliders killed not only all of the nesting females, but also consumed every egg and hatchling they came across.
Development, logging, and agriculture have taken their toll, destroying native birds’ habitats and forcing them into sugar glider neighborhoods. The culmination of these facts led Stojanovic and his team to project the loss of the Swift Parrot in a mere 16 years. The Swift’s peers have similar woes: The Orange-bellied Parrot’s only known population sits around 60 individuals. The Forty-spotted Pardalote has between 1,000 and 1,5000 remaining breeders.
Once Stojanovic’s team realized the threat, they knew they had to act fast, but government funding and grants were likely to take more time to secure than the parrots have.
“These birds need action now and crowdfunding is a much more nimble way to mobilize funds,” says Stojanovic.
So how will the researchers use these funds to stop sugar gliders? The plan is to spend the initial $31,626 to buy and install 1,000 possum-proof nesting boxes. The next $15,813 will be used to combat deadly parasitic fly infections in baby pardalotes, by close monitoring and management of nests.
Additional funding will sponsor more arduous tasks, like tracking down bird survivors that may still exist in the wild and finding a way to prevent possum attacks in the natural nesting sites in tree hollows.
Stojanovic thinks the project may hit A$100,000 ($79,065) before it ends. The success is further evidence of a growing trend of avian crowdfunding ventures for conservation and beyond (like the toucan who received a 3-D printed beak in February).
Undertakings like this are proof there’s still plenty of people out there willing to go out on a limb for their feathered friends. “People are not comfortable simply watching species slide into extinction,” says Stojanovic.