One of the rarest birds on the Australasian continent, the Australian Painted Snipe, is described as “near-mythical” by ecologist Matthew Herring.

Herring asserts, “Some of these terms get thrown around, but they really are.”

The fact that only about 340 of them remain is not the only thing that makes them unique. The expression “out of sight, out of mind” applies to Australian painted snipes. Even experienced birdwatchers are unaware of their existence.

Herring asserts, “They are a super-sneaky, cover-dependent, mud-loving, waterplant-hiding shorebird.”

The Australian painted snipe came in at number 29 in a study that prioritised the nearly 10,000 bird species worldwide by comparing their conservation status to their evolutionary uniqueness.

Herring states, “So it’s definitely a weird bird.”

And a hard-to-find one. From the Murray-Darling Basin to the Kimberley, it covers a large area. There are very few sightings.

Herring claims, “From memory if you look at [the apps] Birdata and eBird over the last two years I think there’s five records across Australia,”

Researchers struggle to fill in even the most fundamental information about the painted snipe, which is written with a hyphen to differentiate it from “true” snipes, which are only distantly related to it. Even the reason why there are so few is a mystery. Herring, who runs the consultancy Murray Wildlife, says that extreme weather events brought on by climate change, habitat loss, introduced predators, and habitat destruction are likely to play a role. However, the South American painted snipe and the greater painted snipe are doing well in other parts of the world.

According to Herring, “Maybe the nature of Australia, maybe the ephemerality of [Australian] wetlands is less suitable for that particular organism, that is a painted-snipe.”

Herring says that the Australian painted snipe is like the night parrot in a wetland, but he also says that even though the night parrot is hard to find and was thought to be extinct for a century, western science knows more about it. The Australian painted snipe has no recorded calls, unlike the night parrot.

The painted snipe, like many other Australian wetland birds, seems to move around, but Herring says that “they just vanish for months or years at a time.”

“And we don’t know where the strongholds are during winter or during droughts. It’s very hard to conserve a bird if you don’t know where they are for years at a time.”

Because of this, Herring and his colleagues—a mix of experts in shorebirds from a variety of universities and other organizations—have asked the general public for assistance.

According to him, “We’re relying on all birdwatchers across the country and other people that are out and about in wetlands to report sightings to Birdlife Australia and they’ll make their way back to us.”

Herring announced a crowdfunding campaign at the beginning of November with the goal of raising $116,300 in 40 days. That would make it possible for his team to equip at least 12 painted snipes with satellite transmitters and eventually discover where the birds go when they are out of sight for years.

The use of crowdfunding in conservation efforts is not new: Researchers studying Kangaroo Island dunnarts, swift parrots, glossy-black cockatoos, and many other species have requested public assistance in recent years. A previous crowdfunding campaign for Australasian bitterns was led by Herring himself.

Deakin University wildlife ecologist Prof. Euan Ritchie asserts that research on endangered species should not be funded by the general public.

He states, “Australia is an exceedingly rich nation, but when it comes to the conservation and care of our life-supporting ecosystems and globally unique wildlife, far too often there is little to no financial support from governments.”

Tanya Plibersek, the environment minister, stated in October that the government was committed to putting an end to Australia’s extinction crisis. However, it is unknown how the government will carry out that commitment.

Ritchie states, “Australia’s governments can seemingly afford $250bn in tax cuts for the rich, more than $100bn for new submarines and $10bn per annum for fossil fuel subsidies.

“Chronic underfunding of conservation not only places our natural wonders at further risk of decline, or at worst, oblivion, but it fails to capitalise on the enormous social, cultural, economic and environmental opportunities of investing in recovering and sustaining nature.”

Herring acknowledges that crowdfunding fatigue exists.

“I swore I’d never do it again … but we were forced down this track really. It’s urgent. You can run a campaign and you can be ready to buy transmitters and send people out into the field immediately, and a lot of research grants can take six months or a year, sometimes even longer. Crowdfunding has that urgency about it, which is great.”

With just four days remaining, the campaign reached its goal on December 18 thanks to donations from more than 250 individuals. It’s likely that many of them had never heard of painted snipes.

Herring asserts, “And that’s one of the real benefits of crowdfunding. That makes me feel good.”

In light of Australia’s and the world’s extinction crisis, we require as many uplifting tales as possible.


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