"Slings and Arrows" of Outrageous Risk Analysis Model Applications!!
By Marcus Pollard

I’ll dare to show my age and start this issues offering off with the "immortal" lines of that Samuel Peep’s show character Laurie Jackson Jackson "Down here in Tasmania we’ve done some really clever things!!"
Well, this unfortunately isn’t about anything clever as far as any finch breeders can work out!!
Yes, it’s about our new import and bird keeping laws/rules based around the Bomford Model of Risk Assessment for feral species establishment in the wild.

Now, before the detractors point the finger and start boiling the oil and start their tirade about "all those feral species that have invaded our country"; let’s just take a step back and see how those species differ from the ones in the Tasmanian Wildlife Departments cross-hairs!
Firstly, the avian species introduced into the Tasmanian/Australian bush were just that – "introduced by man" or, in the case of the European Starling brought itself here!! Not only were these releases deliberate but, most importantly, they were from wild bloodlines direct from their country of origin. Not aviary escapees but deliberate releases. In fact some of the supposed aviary birds gone feral such as the Red Bishop colony is South Australia have long been the subject of some conjecture from those that state that they "were" there to those that reckon they were ‘dreaming" and that it was the figment of someone’s over active imagination!! Guess the truth is out there somewhere!!
Suffice it to say none of these still exist in the wild today and the days of wild blood imports of finches into Australia is long over at any rate!
Now, I hear you saying "just look at all those Red-crested cardinals, Java sparrows, Green singers and Saint Helena’s in Hawaii" – sorry, but they are aviary birds for sure but were imported directly from their natural habitat and were wild-blood birds and delivered to an area devoid of many of the hi-order predators – both avian and mammalian – that abound in regions like Australia.
Oh, and for the record the Red-crested cardinal and the Java sparrow are both Cites 1 listed in their natural habitat!
Tasmania is the home of the European Goldfinch & Greenfinch which were released into the Tasmanian environment and possibly couldn’t believe their eyes when they spotted an environment much the same climate and grass species wise to the one they’d just been un-ceremonially plucked from!!
Who could have made this environment that way? Sure, a rhetorical question as we know that the early colonists adopted European agricultural methods and brought with them their seeds and plants to perpetrate their existing agricultural ways in a new, harsh environment.
However, all those weeds and hedgerow plants were just like home and the Greenfinch & Goldfinch flourished – especially given that there were no competing native species for that agricultural land. The only native finch here is the Beautiful firetail and it has certainly benefitted from the addition of those weed species and is a common sight on winter grass plants but, because of its shy, secretive nature exists quite happily alongside these 2 European interlopers and is quite commonly observed feeding and breeding alongside the two Fringillid species.
Recently the Tasmanian Wildlife authorities added the Common Redpoll to the banned species list. When asked "why" we had the "New Zealand experience" thrown at us where they were an agricultural pest. Anyone that has ever tried to keep them in captivity will probably attest to the fact that they are certainly not the easiest finch to keep and breed. Tasmania’s climate is possibly akin to their home range and we struggled here to breed large number of them.
Sorry to be a splitter but, yet again, these birds introduced into New Zealand were a direct import from Europe and delivered into an agricultural landscape created by man that was a copy of every Western agricultural style.
Dare I say that if these aviary bred ones are at such great risk of establishing wild colonies why did the acclimation societies not select their birds for release from just such a source??
So along with the Chaffinch, the Cirl Bunting and the Yellowhammer they flourished. Again, New Zealand was devoid of higher order predators and possessed zero native mammals at all. So, as with Hawaii, basically a free ride as far as heavy predation goes.

At this stage it might be advantageous to mention the good old Chaffinch as they give us a good insight into the entire question of feral introductions. Banned in a number of states of Australia and not exactly a common aviary species whose numbers fluctuate like the wind from season to season. Yet when these learned people read from their bibles of introduced species they must have conveniently skipped the pages that stated that the Chaffinch was also released on a number of occasions into the bush of mainland Australia yet failed dismally to become established – and may I also add the releases were from wild-type bloodlines at that!

We must beg the question of how long are we going to held to ransom by the actions of some well-meaning but possibly deluded acclimation society in the past that released finch species into the wild in some country or another?
Simply reading from a book and recoiling with shock and horror over the past establishment of some finch in a foreign country before ultimately banning it should also be tempered with one unassailable statement of fact – that the exotic finch species in our aviaries are NOT wild-type blood and have been in captivity for generations with all that entails as regards habituation and domestication.

Having said all that we still see on Pest Species websites and publications ratings for many of the exotic finch species that we keep and these are often enough to make the head spin. I quote:

In the ‘extreme’ pest listing are Red strawberries, St Helena Waxbills, Orange Cheek waxbills, Red Bishop weavers, Chaffinches, Golden song sparrows, Redpolls, Saffrons and the Pin-tailed whydah. Ouch you may say well here is some more compelling reading on the extreme danger list which should make all people wonder about the validity of such ratings. Also gracing this list is: Yellowhammers, Rose finches, Purple finches, and the Indian silverbill – does anyone remember when these guys were common in captivity in Australia?

In the ‘serious’ listings we have many perennial favourites such as: the Blue-capped waxbill, Red-cheeked cordon bleus, Orange-Breasted waxbills, Green singers, Grey singers, Pin-tailed parrotfinches, Red-faced parrotfinches, Senegal waxbills, Melba finches, Aurora finches, Napoleon weavers, Peter’s twinspots, African Fire finches, Red-crested cardinals, Rufous-backed manikins and the African silverbill

Quite a healthy list of potential bandits and many on the serious list are on their knees in aviculture as you read this. Can you imagine the job in front of those toiling to have live finch imports approved in light of these sorts of species classifications?

We have suggested over the years that the hard and fast application of such risk analysis models is over the top when it is being applied to finches that have been closeted in the aviary environment for decades.
Even those that advocate they are required "just in case" legal imports of finches are allowed into Australia have obviously never checked the strict stringent guidelines for entry of such animals – certainly no traces of wild-blood lines allowed under any circumstances!
Yes, this was a ‘reason’ given to us at the start of this episode here in Tasmania which we were easily able to counter with facts!

Now why did I bother presenting you with lists and species – was it just to amuse/annoy you or to get the grey matter ticking over? Actually no, as many of these ‘serious and/or extreme’ listed finches are their own best advocates in a way that most aviculturists would deem logical – but not so our learned colleagues.
These risk analysis models are loosely based around three main "thought-processes" if you like – climatic matches, habitat similarities and previous pest history – all with a view to their potential to do damage to the Australian environment.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting because you may remember back to a previous issue of ABK where I outlined a little project of mine to make up a seed mix suitable for the rarer African waxbills that we keep here in Australia. Allow me to deviate for a brief minute and outline the process that I employed to make my African Waxbill Seed Mix.
I purchased a book from Russell & Indra at Indruss Productions "African Birds in Field & Aviary" and cross-referenced all the seeds that were listed for the natural diets of these finches and set about trying to locate them in Australia – a seemingly hopeless cause I suspected at the start! Boy was I wrong!!
When enquiring about some species like Guinea grass I was initially asked how many tonne I wanted! Seems that the majority of these seeds that I wanted were being grown commercially in parts of Queensland and northern NSW as a stock feed for the cattle industry.
Now, call me Mr Picky if you will, but this suggests to me that there are vast areas of Australia that are just groaning with all manner of African grasses – Sabi, Guinea, Setarias, Signal plus all 3 Ehrharta ones to select but a few – yes, just like on the savannahs where our waxbills evolved. The other factor that must be linked to this is that for all these grasses to grow then there must be a very similar climate between those areas and parts of Africa.
Seems logical to me – yet at this point we must pose the logical question. Where are all the Waxbills given this abundant food source and climatic match to the area they evolved from?
Yep, another rhetorical question for we all know that these escapee Waxbill colonies are non-existent in such areas. Despite the thousands of these common species that are bred in warmer climes every season none have ever managed to band together to form viable colonies.
Not what these risk analysis models would have us believe and therefore you’ll forgive us if we demand that before some bright spark bothers to adopt such strict regimes for real-world situations they might care to research the historical record before setting these things into law.
Given the complete dearth of African Waxbills lurking in the Australian bush where climate is a positive match and an ample food source exists why on earth are people demanding that we need to do such assessments for such species to enter a habitat and climate like Tasmania?
If you thought the list of extreme risk species did not reflect the true nature of the species mentioned aviculturally speaking then this should push you over the edge!!

How could it be made fairer?
Perhaps for starters there needs to be some loading (or more aptly a reduction!!) given for species that have been held in captivity without new bloodlines which is the case for all exotic finches. If the powerbrokers are going to point to a species’ pest history based on some misguided acclimation societies doings centuries ago then they also need to acknowledge that the birds they are passing judgement on share little in common with such wild-blood planned releases where the propagule pressure/number was calculated to give the releases the best chance of establishing in the first place.
Perhaps a rating on this risk analysis model should also reflect incidences of failed introductions – especially in regards to this country. Enter exhibit A in the humble Chaffinch which, if the Tasmanian Wildlife officers that we deal with had their way would be exterminated!
Simple question is ‘why bother’ based on their previous pest history when several planned releases into the Victorian and South Australian bush resulted in only one thing – a lot of dead Chaffinches!
How could this be so, the climate was a match, the Western-style agricultural methods were a match and, hey, they did establish in New Zealand didn’t they?
The why is relatively simple to us at any rate given the vastly different predatory avian and mammalian fauna that exists in Australia as compared to New Zealand.
So the Chaffinch is basically banned because of this event and other introductions worldwide yet it couldn’t establish in Australia so where is the reflection of this fact in this model – simple, there isn’t one which, for the sake of fairness we state it should be there.
Oddly enough a while back we were pondering these questions during the Exotic Bird Record Keeping Scheme (EBRKS) where one of the wags in the trenches with us finch keepers reckoned that it seemed all anyone had to be to become an "instant expert" on feral species of anything avian was to own a copy of "Introduced Birds of the World"!!
Seems now there’s two things they need to ascribe to!!

In all honesty to have gone through this entire process during the EBRKS and to have presented an overwhelming case that there was no need for any finches to have to go onto Class1 of that scheme and that none posed any discernible sort of threat to the Biodiversity of Environment of Australia and to then have to do it all over again in a state like Tasmania is bordering on the insane!!
We are often told that this sort of risk analysis came about as a result of Tasmanian Wildlife Parks wishing to import lions, tigers and other nasty bitey things like crocodiles.
Surely someone with a modicum of good sense in that Department could see that birds which have been kept and bred in Tasmania/Australia for decades with no history of escapees should NOT be subjected to the same stringent import ‘risk analyses’ as large predatory mammals which have the equipment to pose a serious "risk" to humans and god knows what they could do to the environment!
One lion or 1 Redpoll – think I’ll take my chances with that nasty, vicious Redpoll!!

However, perhaps the most offensive aspect of this entire venture is the way that it was handled or introduced to the masses.
I’d like to compare this process to the EBRKS in Canberra that I attended on behalf of the Finch Society of Australia Inc. but that would, unfortunately, be impossible!
From day one here we have been "told" what was going to happen and any input was after the event as in the plethora of Psittacine and local species that were banned from being imported.
Suffice it to say that finch keepers were mortified by this approach and banded together to approach the Department and the Minister in order to prevent similar bureaucratic lunacy being applied to the keeping and import of finch species.
To that end we have sought input from Tasmanian finch breeders and have prepared a number of submissions just waiting to be presented to the minister for the Environment before it is too late.

Well, hopefully there is something in that lot to make you think how well off you are to enjoy your hobby free of such inane intrusions. If, on the other hand, you think "who cares what they do down there" then I suggest you rethink that line of ‘reasoning" because it only takes one bright spark from down here to take such risk analysis models to your home state and you would be in a world of trouble – especially as climate match is a huge component of these models!!
"Be afraid, be very afraid" because if you think Tasmanians may have problems with it then can you imagine the world of hurt it would mean for mainland finch keepers!!

If you have any ideas or input to help our task please feel free to email me and lend a hand for it is the only way we will preserve our hobby of finch breeding in this country.
Well enough chatter, must don the helmet, pick up the grenades and head back into the trenches with our finch colleagues and prepare for anything they can throw at us!!