While the fine print in some of the promotional material explains that Karak belongs to a subspecies of red-tailed black cockatoo, the general impression is that the entire species is close to extinction with fewer than 1,000 red-tailed black cockatoos surviving in the whole of Australia.
The official Games website states:
“With fewer than 1,000 South-Eastern Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos in the wild, the Games has extended a lifeline to the species by adopting it as the mascot ‘Karak’.
As a result of the growing awareness of the species’ decreasing numbers, government and private industries have offered funds and resources to create a breeding programme to save the cockatoo.” (Emphasis added)
In reality the cockatoo is not uncommon across much of northern, western and north eastern Australian.
According to The Australian Parrot Society it is only the small and isolated population of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii graptogyne) which occurs in south-western Victoria and adjacent parts of the south-east of South Australia that is considered vulnerable to extinction. There are about 1,000 of these birds, hence the official script.
Not that confusion about the proliferation of the species is uncommon – copies of letters dating back to 1997 have been posted at the society’s website complaining that the Queensland Department of Environment had issued permits to farmers to shoot the cockatoos because the birds were causing crop damage.
The Commonwealth Games, like the Olympic Games, is about the best, the strongest, the most competitive. Why choose the most threatened subspecies of Red-tailed cockatoo as the games mascot?
As a nation, as a people, we seem to have to focus on environmental disasters, even at a time when we are celebrating achievement.
At the launch the federal government Ministers, probably unknowingly, reinforced the impression the entire species is endangered with some of the following quotes from the media release:
“Australian Ministers for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Peter McGauran, and the Environment and Heritage Senator Ian Campbell, said the work was vital to the future survival of the species. (emphasis added)
“With less than 1,000 of these birds remaining in the wild, this important work will safeguard one of our unique species – now recognised around the world thanks to Karak, the symbol of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games,” Minister McGauran said.
… Victorian Minister for the Environment John Thwaites said the main threats to the cockatoo’s long-term survival were the loss of the large hollow trees that provide nesting opportunities, the clearing of buloke trees and extensive hot fires in stringybark forests.”