Story transcripts

The Vanishing

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producer: Jo Townsend

When Liz Hayes first met conservationist Chris Darwin two years ago - great, great grandson of the naturalist Charles Darwin - she was a little taken aback.

He's unconventional to say the least. And unusually generous.

To combat what he calls our "biggest extinction period in history", he bought up vast tracts of prime Australian bush.

So, when the miners and their trucks began to muscle in on his land, he embarked on a series of experiments just like his famous Great Great Granddaddy.

This story is an update to the original story broadcast on: June 27, 2010.

Full transcript:

STORY – LIZ HAYES: It’s an idea so simple, it’s brilliant. It could be straight from the work of Charles Darwin himself. Chris Darwin buys up huge parcels of Australian bush, brimming with endangered species, and turns the land into vast nature reserves.

CHRIS: If you want to save things, maybe the best way of doing it is just to buy it. And so that’s what I was doing, buying up bits of land.

LIZ HAYES: When we first met this unconventional conservationist in the Western Australian outback two years ago –

CHRIS: What’s this? Here we are.

LIZ HAYES: His enthusiasm for endangered wildlife was contagious – even for some of nature’s least appealing creatures.

CHRIS: I actually think he's actually handleable. I think you could do it.

LIZ HAYES: I'm not.

CHRIS: No.

LIZ HAYES: Good try.

CHRIS: Oh, okay. Come on, in you - oh, his stinger's just moved. C'mon, back in, back in.

LIZ HAYES: Drop him in.

CHRIS: Drop him in, I don't want to get him angry. C'mon, back, whoops - there we are. If you went 20 million years into the future, you will see - if we keep going as we're going - you will see a train wreck in the fossil record, and we are causing it every day. We've got nowhere else in the universe to live. We live on this small, moist lump of rock spinning through the desert of space. Why would you destroy the only planet on which you can live? Is that the act of the most intelligent animal on the planet?

LIZ HAYES: Clearly not.

CHRIS: Isn't it? I don't know. I don't think it is, that's why I'm here.

LIZ HAYES: One stretch of his land houses a very rare native bird – the Australian malleefowl.

CHRIS: I think there is something magical about meeting any amazing species up close. Come with me, Liz. Come on, here we go.

LIZ HAYES: The conservation plan he’d showed us was working swimmingly.

CHRIS: Can you hear the chicks?

LIZ HAYES: That is, until a mining company moved in on the land next door. Their access road cuts through the nature reserve, and brings with it the enemy – mining trucks. And Chris’ beloved Australian species turned into road kill. The mining company assured Chris that their drivers have had special training, and would stop their trucks for endangered bird life like the malleefowl to cross the road. Chris was sceptical.

CHRIS: This is of course typical of what happens if you build a mining road through a nature reserve. You get a lot of dead animals.

LIZ HAYES: With the help of some specially-prepared fake malleefowl, he devised an ingenious experiment that was nothing short of, well, Darwinian.

CHRIS: We decided to do the malleefowl experiment, because the mining company told us the truck drivers couldn’t avoid all wildlife, but they would try, and we wanted to know whether they were going to do that. Okay, I can hear the engine now. He’s coming.

LIZ HAYES: The team laid their artificial malleefowl trap, and waited.

CHRIS: Here he comes.

LIZ HAYES: And they got some unexpected results.

CHRIS: The first truck stopped. And I had to go out and meet him. And I was wondering if I was going to get beaten up, actually. Good for you, mate. Good effort. Well done, thank you so much. That is just fantastic. I really appreciate it. I know you’re working bloody hard, to have to stop. I really appreciate what you did.

DRIVER: I thought, well, if it’s alive –

CHRIS: So, mate, can I ask you a question? Did the mining company tell you to be careful of the malleefowl?

DRIVER: Yeah.

CHRIS: They did?

DRIVER: Yeah.

CHRIS: Great.

DRIVER: We never see them, but, other than the curiosity.

LIZ HAYES: In fact, the mining company’s truck driver knew all about stopping for the malleefowl. But would they all be so careful?

CHRIS: The second truck did a beautiful piece of driving, and just avoided the bird entirely. And the third truck did an elegant manoeuvre, and again missed the bird. Experiment done, faith in conservation restored, Chris got out of there. But it got him thinking. If an Australian truck driver could learn to stop to let an endangered species cross the road, who else could he convince?

CHRIS: I didn’t expect the truck drivers to care as much as they clearly did, and if you can get truck drivers in Western Australia to care about the natural world, maybe you can get millions of people to care about the natural world. So I’m off to America, where I’m going to bicycle across America, I’m going to undertake a PR campaign for mother nature.

LIZ HAYES: With a documentary crew in tow, Chris is now in training to cycle across America – malleefowl and all – to raise awareness of endangered species. It’s a job he takes incredibly seriously. After all, the planet depends on it.

CHRIS: You've got to stand back from it, and you've got to say we've got nowhere else to go. Why don't we just stop now? Why don't we just say we know we need the planet? It's not a big problem. Let's stop now - let's stop the destruction.

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