Last month an article by an Australian ethnoornithologist Bob Gosford caught my eye. He wrote about the sighting of a large number of Princess Parrots (Polyetis alexandrae) at Mount Winter, which is well outside their usual range. “This news started a frenzied panic among the birding community – princess parrots are both exceedingly rare and exceedingly beautiful, and now they were about in good numbers within three-and-a-half hours driving time of Alice Springs.”
The challenge for the peoples of Australia was that these birds were on Aboriginal freehold land. Permits were required of birders who wanted to see this parrot. A royal mess ensued. Some birders felt they had the right to see the birds, regardless of the rights of the Aboriginals, and trespassed upon sacred and sensitive lands in their zest to catch a sighting. On various birding email lists, comments by some were interpreted by others as racist and colonialist. Wrote one person about these comments, “These sentiments imply a superiority and moral high ground… they are more offensive for being subtle. People have also objected to the traditional owner’s scruples about (white) birders running around on his land, when we don’t have a clue what it means to be custodians of the land.”
Birding, conservation, and nature experiences are intertwined with politics, geography, and history. We may step into nature to see what we may see, and save and savor what we may, however, we never leave the complex interactions of own kind. We take it with us. Ethno-ornithology helps us see this and understand our subtleties, so that we may have as many clues as possible for negotiating the needs of parrots and people alike.
To find out more about ethnoorithology:
Yahoo Group: Ethnoornithology
Ethnornithology: Birds, Indigenous Peoples, Culture, and Society – Edited by Sonai Tidemann and Andrew Gosler
Over the Winter Holidays I will be taking a week’s leave from this blog. In this time, I wish you the hope of this season’s turning.