Kate on Conservation

Population monitoring and conservation: The Great Cocky Count 2012

black cockatoo on a branch

Carrying on my, what seems to have become a continuing theme, of comparing my volunteering experiences in Australia to those I partook in whilst in South Africa,  today’s blog is about counting and controlling population numbers.

Last month I took part in the ‘great cocky count’ in WA. Black cockatoos are currently considered an endangered species.  In an hour-long meeting held by Bird Life Australia a week prior to the count (15 April was count night), we were told all the important things about cockatoos (that they are semi-migratory, they mate for life, give long term parental care, etc.), shown nest boxes, and given a briefing on how to tell black cockatoos apart. There are two types of black cockatoo, ‘red tail’ ones and ‘white tail’ ones, which can be distinguished by colours around their eyes, colours on their tails and wings and crest shape. We were counting white ones.


The actual process of counting was very simple: people were stationed across Western Australia between the hour of 5.25pm and 6.25pm (around dusk, when the cockatoos return to their roost sites for the night) people at each station count the number of cockatoos as they fly into the trees (deducting any that leave again). We were all given a simple table for tallying sighting and a map and compass to jot down direction of sighting. It is important that everyone counting does it at the same time, and only counts those landing in their area, not just flying by, as this will give the most accurate population numbers.

Although during my time at the game reserves in South Africa there was no count to this scale, there was a need to monitor game numbers.


During the two weeks I spent volunteering at Shamwari’s neighbouring Amakhala Reserve counting game was the task we spent most of our time doing. Amakhala is a relatively new reserve, so monitoring its numbers of game during breeding season are particularly important.


I was there during September time, which is the lambing season for Thompson’s gazelle, water buck, and other antelope. Counts here consisted of riding around in the land rovers with a pair of binoculars and a tally sheet. People on each side of the vehicle (front, left side, right side) were responsible for their area.


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