01 March 2014
Julie Bishop axes funding earmarked to save endangered Sumatran rhinoceros
Beware a Woman/Government Scorned
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has cancelled funding to help save the Sumatran rhinoceros from extinction, despite receiving advice advocating for the program, it was revealed in Senate estimates on Thursday.
Last year, then foreign minister Bob Carr announce the government would provide $3m over three years to fund existing projects that are already demonstrating results in protecting the Sumatran rhino.
The money was to go to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) which would then support the projects it saw as most effective.
WWF declined to comment on Dfat's decision.
During Senate estimates on Thursday, Dfat spokesman Rod Brazier told Liberal senator Helen Kroger the current foreign minister Julie Bishop has decided not to proceed with the program.
He said he was aware of written advice advocating for Australia's support and development of the program but he could not go into the content of it.
He also could not say when the decision was made to cancel the program, which had not yet begun.
The Sumatran rhino is listed as critically endangered, with approximately 100 believed to be alive in the wild. Numbers more than halved between 1985 and 1995, primarily due to poaching.
Australia is proud to be supporting environmental sustainability in Indonesia to help preserve this special species, said Carr in August.
Tragically, most of these rhino populations are very small and may not be sustainable. The largest and possibly most viable populations are found in Sumatra, which is why we are targeting our efforts here, he said.
Claire Campbell, director of Wildlife Asia, said for the Australian government to pledge support and then back out, it's potentially pretty devastating to the Sumatran rhino.
Wildlife Asia initiated discussions which led to the funding agreement with WWF, Campbell said, after an international crisis summit in April 2013 in Singapore drew in rhino experts from around the world to devise ways to save the animal from extinction.
Their research revealed the number left alive in the wild was even more dire than anticipated and business as usual wasn't going to be enough to save them, she said.
Action plans devised at the summit required significant additional funding and conservationists felt they were already getting as much as possible from private donations and non-government organisations.
For that significant increase we needed government support, said Campbell.
All the programs for Sumatran rhinos will now not be able to implement most of the plans that were developed at that meeting. We were kind of depending on government support.
Dfat did not respond to a request for comment.