Australia has one of the worst records of mammalian extinction in the world, in large part because so many of its species evolved in isolation and were not well-equipped to deal with the introduced species that came with European settlement. In recent years, however, a focus on feral eradication and on protection of native species in feral-proof enclosures or sanctuaries has started to reverse this trend.
Earth Sanctuaries, Ltd., a private company in Australia, has been at the forefront of this type of protection. It has played a significant role in the recovery of many species. This study explains the history of Earth Sanctuaries, particularly the successes and challenges it has faced in trying to save species through commercialization. Following recent financial difficulties, the company is now a leaner, more focused operation. And Australia’s wildlife is all the better for it.
- 23 species extinctions have occurred in Australia in the last 200 years, more than any other continent.
- It has been estimated that since European settlement began two centuries ago, 90 percent of Australia’s native vegetation in the Eastern, temperate regions of Australia, and more than one-third of all of Australia’s forests and woodlands, have been removed by human habitation and activity.
- Introduced cats, foxes, and rabbits have long been blamed for the extinction of numerous species in Australia. But with the creation of Earth Sanctuaries, Ltd. (ESL), conservation strategies began to focus on eradication rather than control.
- ESL pioneered the use of feral-proof fencing to demonstrate that small native mammals could recover if all non-native predators and competitors were removed.
- Since its inception in 1985, ESL has dramatically raised the awareness of the plight of Australia’s mammals and the threat posed by non-native species. Based on ESL’s success, national parks and conservation areas, especially in Western Australia, have changed the way they operate their reserves.
- At ESL’s Warrawong Sanctuary, numbers of Australia’s smallest and rarest kangaroo, the woylie, have increased 200-fold; the population of Australia’s most primitive kangaroo, the long-nosed potoroo, increased from four to more than 100; and the Sydney subspecies of the red-necked pademelon, believed to be the last colony of this subspecies in the world, increased from just two to more than 50.
- At its peak of land ownership, ESL owned 10 sanctuaries covering more than 90,000 hectares.
- On May 8, 2000, Earth Sanctuaries, Ltd. was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX code: ESL). This public offering raised A$12 million, increased the number of shareholders to almost 7,000, and allowed Earth Sanctuaries to proudly declare itself the first publicly traded company whose core business is conservation.
- Valuing ESL as a company is difficult. One of its greatest assets – endangered and threatened species – cannot be legally traded, and therefore valued, in the marketplace.
- Since shortly after ESL’s initial public share offering at A$2.50, the share price declined and hovered around 20 cents, forcing ESL to restructure.
- ESL’s restructuring only reinforces the point that markets have tremendous power to conserve resources. ESL has emerged a leaner and more focused operation. In contrast, little has changed at Yellowstone National Park – the world’s oldest and most famous national park – since severe mismanagement resulted in devastating fires in 1988.
- Conservation and commerce are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they are inextricably linked.