May 31

Filmmakers Jennene and Dave Riggs have been filming and editing wildlife documentaries for over 17 years, and have worked with a vast array of species in their careers, from dangerous sharks, orcas and crocodiles to gentle dugongs and bandicoots. The pair are currently working on a new documentary about one of the most endangered bird species in the world, the western ground parrot. We caught up with Jennene who told us all about the species and how filming is going.

Secrets at Sunrise TITLE -®Riggs Australia copy 2

Secrets at Sunrise promo image with western ground parrot. Credit: Riggs Australia

What is your newest film about?

I’m currently producing a documentary called ‘Secrets at Sunrise’ which is the story of the amazing work that a team of people are doing on the south coast of Western Australia to save some of our most endangered native species from the onslaught of feral animals that predate them, and a whole suite of other threats to their survival. The focus of the film, and perhaps the most vulnerable of all these creatures is the western ground parrot which is Critically Endangered and only found in one location.

Why did you choose the western ground parrot as the topic of your film?

The dire situation with the western ground parrot is symbolic of the global issue of species extinctions and how we are losing so many animals and plants every year. We are in the middle of the sixth great extinction and it’s important to raise awareness of this and get people thinking about their own impact on our natural world.

I first heard about the western ground parrot when I was producing a documentary in 2013 on the incredible biodiversity and natural history of the south coast of WA called ‘Remote & Rugged’. During my research for that film I became aware of the wonderful work that volunteers from the community and staff from the Western Australia Department of Parks & Wildlife are doing to save the parrot from extinction, so I organised to go out on one of their field trips and film a sequence to include in the film.

On this first field trip I saw just how determined these people are and was so impressed by their dedication to saving this critically endangered bird. I could see a remarkable story unfolding, one of camaraderie and friendship despite the challenges of working with this incredibly rare bird in such an isolated location.

WGP recovery team -®Jennene Riggs

Western ground parrot recovery team. Credit: Jennene Riggs

Why is the western ground parrot so endangered?

The western ground parrot was never prolific in numbers, but it used to be quite widespread in its range – on the coastal plain from north of Perth to east of Esperance on the south coast (a distance spanning over 1000km) but since European settlement there are a number of things that have caused its decline.

Historically throughout their heathland habitat there was a lot of land clearing for development and agriculture, resulting in a loss of suitable places for them to live. Then much of their remaining habitat has been damaged by wildfire, which further reduced suitable habitat and exposed the surviving populations to predation by feral cats and foxes. There were thought to be only around 140 individuals left, although that was before a devastating series of wildfires tore through their habitat in October and November 2015.

What does the future look like for this endangered bird species?

There is hope! Several years ago some parrots were taken into captivity and these birds have now been transferred to the Perth Zoo. Specialist staff there are working to try and encourage them to breed, and if they’re successful, this could form the basis of a captive breeding program which might enable the reintroduction of western ground parrots into areas they’ve disappeared from in the wild.

Can you tell us more about the film?

My main character in the story is a strong female leader – Sarah Comer – the regional ecologist at Department of Parks and Wildlife. She’s amazing…a dynamic and tireless optimist, determined to see this species and its environment survive and thrive.

There are lots of challenges in filming Secrets at Sunrise – obviously our main subject is an extremely rare bird, so straight up that presents an issue. Coupled with that they are also very shy and secretive. Many of the researchers have stories of how they’d been working on western ground parrots for five or ten years before they actually saw one! Imagine that!!

Because of this, the best way to survey their numbers and monitor them is to listen out for their calls when they move from their nighttime roost to their daytime feeding ground (and vice versa). Their ‘peak calling hours’ are an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset, which means you have to adopt their very unsociable hours.

Jennene Riggs and Anne Morcombe filming

Jennene Riggs and Anne Morcombe filming. Credit: Sarah Comer

Then there are the conditions of the location too. Cape Arid is very remote, a couple of hours drive from Esperance (which itself is an eight hour drive from Perth – the states capital city). The tracks they drive along to get to the birds are rough, bumpy, boggy bush tracks.

Jennene walking along one of the tracks to filming location. Credit: Riggs Australia

Jennene walking along one of the tracks to filming location. Credit: Riggs Australia

Depending of what time of year a survey is, you’ve also got environmental challenges. Obviously in summer it can get scorching hot, and there’s no relief to be had sitting in your tent, its even hotter in there. The flies can get pretty friendly then. You get to about day four of no shower out there, and then things start to get a bit on the nose.

On the opposite scale of that is camping in winter. It’s freezing! Your nose won’t stop dripping while you’re doing the mornings listening surveys and it feels like frostbite’s about to claim your fingers and ears. One trip I filmed we had a thunder and lightning storm centered right over the top of us, and a torrential downpour turned the campsite into a swamp.

It sounds very challenging! What has been your favourite part of filming so far?

Despite all the challenges, I love being out there and feeling so connected with nature. The bond between the researchers is amazing as well. They’ve been doing this together for many years now and they get volunteers from all over Australia and the world coming back year after year to participate and help survey the wildlife because it’s such a special and important thing to be a part of.

As part of the story I’ve also been filming the team conduct ongoing surveys of other species inhabiting the area, and this is secretly the best part of the job because you get these incredibly gorgeous creatures like honey possums, bandicoots, dunnarts, ash grey mice, burrowing frogs, legless lizards, all sorts of invertebrates, and probably least favorite of all but most prolific are bush rats… and to be honest, as far as rats go, they’re pretty cute.

Ash grey mouse. Credit: Jennene Riggs

Ash grey mouse. Credit: Jennene Riggs

The main outcome I’m hoping for with this film is to show how special and valuable our wildlife, national parks and remaining tracts of native bush are, and the lengths that some people will go to in preserving that biodiversity. Some people might think that losing one species from the environment is not such a big deal, but it is. Everything in nature has its place and when something is taken out of that equation it has a flow-on effect. Who’d want to live in a world with no pandas and orangutans, or clean rivers and air, or beautiful heathland with western ground parrots hiding amongst it? Not me!

I’m lucky to have had the support of the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot, who are just as determined as I am that this film is made and broadcast to as wide an audience as possible. They’re a not-for-profit entirely devoted to raising awareness of the wgp and raising funds to help continued efforts to save it from extinction. It’s been fantastic working with them, and inspiring to see their tireless dedication to the cause.

I’d like to think filming is nearly complete, but this story is constantly evolving so we’ll just have to see what happens!

Watch the trailer for Secrets at Sunrise

Like Secrets at Sunrise on Facebook

Discover more parrot species on Arkive


May 8

A recent study has found that Australian marsupials such as tree possums, bandicoots and quolls are suffering a sudden decline, placing them at risk of extinction in Australia.

Northern quoll image

The northern quoll is the smallest of the four Australian quoll species

Dramatic decline

Several of Australia’s unusual marsupials, including bandicoots and phascogales, are currently experiencing a dramatic decline in the north of the country, according to recent research. Small mammal species across the continent have been known to be at risk of extinction for some time, but Chris Johnson, a wildlife conservation professor from the University of Tasmania, noted a marked and worrying change in the northern regions of Australia.

There’s a pretty clear picture and it shows that lots of species have declined dramatically,” he said. “Where we can infer the timing of decline, it’s been fairly recent and there are now large areas where small mammals are either very rare or don’t exist but the habitat looks like it should support small mammals.”

Northern brush-tailed phascogale image

The northern brush-tailed phascogale is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Worrying changes

The recent changes have been described by scientists as being a ‘new wave of decline’, but Johnson says that it is not clear how sudden these changes were. The most noticeable declines began in the early 1990s, and were particularly evident in conservation areas such as Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. In recent decades, around 20 small native mammal species have disappeared from Kakadu, including bandicoots, northern quolls, tree possums and northern brush-tailed phascogales, and a similar pattern has been seen in other parts of the country.

Western barred bandicoot image

The western barred bandicoot is one marsupial which has already been lost from most of its former range in southern and western Australia

Feline culprits

Scientists analysed information from a database of current mammal populations, comparing the current wave of extinction across different species with past extinction patterns. The researchers reported their findings to a meeting of experts in Canberra this week, revealing that some common factors had emerged.

First, the extinctions are occurring mainly in ground-dwelling animals of small body size which live in open, dry habitat. This points the finger of suspicion strongly at an introduced predator – the cat,” said Johnson. “We have seen similar extinction patterns driven by predators like foxes in southern Australia – so the big question was: ‘Is history repeating itself, or is it something new?’”

Johnson explained that the declines were being seen in species typically eaten by cats, and that, tellingly, no such declines were seen in cat-free regions. However, cats are thought to have been introduced with the settlement of Europeans in the late 1700s, while the noticeable marsupial declines were far more recent, prompting Johnson and his colleagues to ask: what had changed to make cats such a damaging predator?

Dingo image

Professor Johnson suggests boosting local biodiversity through the reintroduction of native predators such as the dingo

Unanswered questions

Typical factors in species decline include the outbreak of disease and habitat loss through land clearance, but neither of these was evident in northern Australia. However, it is thought that the use of fire by cattle ranchers may be having an effect on native marsupial populations.

It is probably no one thing,” said Johnson, “but the data points to a combination of several effects – all of which tend to favour the hunting style adopted by cats which places small ground-dwelling animals at greater risk.”

The creation of sanctuaries in the bush or on offshore islands is one method currently being used to help protect a variety of marsupial species and boost their falling numbers. However, Professor Johnson is also championing a method which involves boosting local biodiversity by allowing the breeding and reintroduction of predators such as dingos to ecosystems where they have been eradicated by humans. It is hoped that, as the native predators replace feral predators or at least reduce their numbers, native prey species will be given the opportunity to rebound and thrive.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Australian marsupials such as possums in sudden decline.

View images and videos of Australian species on ARKive.


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Nov 23
Image of bridled nailtail wallaby

Bridled nailtail wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata)

Species: Bridled nailtail wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The bridled nailtail wallaby gets its name from the white ‘bridle’ line running down the centre of the neck and behind each arm, and from the horn-like ‘nail’ point on the tip of its long tail.

More information:

The bridled nailtail wallaby has earned the nickname ‘flash jack’ thanks to its ability to hop extremely quickly. It is able to pick up food, open its pouch and groom using its small forearms. Adult and young wallabies – both male and female – are similar in appearance, with grey fur and darker paws, feet and tail. Bridled nailtail wallabies are nocturnal and spend most of the day sheltering in shallow nests. At night, they tentatively come out to feed in open grassy woodlands.

Born around May, the young wallaby is tiny and underdeveloped, with rudimentary limbs and tail, and closed ears and eyes. However, once its umbilical cord breaks, it crawls at an amazing speed up through the female’s fur to the safety of her pouch, where it suckles for up to 11 months.

The bridled nailtail wallaby was common in inland Australia in the mid-19th century, but populations decreased dramatically and by the 1960s this species was presumed extinct. A small population was rediscovered in 1973 in a 100 km² area in central Queensland, Australia, and this is the only place in the world this species of wallaby is now found, having been lost from 95% of its original range. It is difficult to isolate any single cause for the decline of the bridled nailtail wallaby, as it has occurred so rapidly. In the early 1900s, this species suffered dramatically from shooting for its fur and pest control. Other threats include wildfires, drought, over-predation by foxes, feral cats and dingoes, disease, habitat destruction by the pastoral industry and competition for food from grazers such as rabbits and domestic sheep.

Captive breeding and translocation projects have been developed, in addition to a recovery plan, but the public’s understanding of this species’ plight must also be increased to ensure continued support for the bridled nailtail wallaby.


Find out more about the bridled nailtail wallaby at the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland and the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby Trust.

See images and videos of the bridled nailtail wallaby on ARKive.


Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

Sep 7
Photo of Carnaby's black-cockatoo feeding

Carnaby’s black-cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris)

Species: Carnaby’s black-cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Carnaby’s black-cockatoo can potentially live for 40 to 50 years in the wild.

More information:

Carnaby’s black-cockatoo is a large, black cockatoo found only in south-western parts of Western Australia. This species generally breeds in dry eucalypt woodland and forages in nearby heath and scrubland, although it has also adapted to plantations of non-native pines. Its diet consists mainly of seeds, although it also takes some fruit, nectar and insect larvae. Hard fruit cases are crushed in the short, powerful beak to access the seeds inside. Carnaby’s black-cockatoo is a sociable species and may form large flocks outside of the breeding season, when many individuals move to wetter coastal areas. Pairs mate for life and nest in hollows in large eucalypt trees, where they lay clutches of two eggs. Typically, the second chick dies soon after hatching and only one chick is raised.

Carnaby’s black-cockatoo has undergone a significant decline in the last century, vanishing from much of its former range. The main cause of this decline is the widespread clearance, fragmentation and degradation of its habitat. The large trees this species uses for nesting are failing to regenerate due to overgrazing by sheep and rabbits, while the clearance of important feeding habitat around breeding sites means adults have to travel further to find enough food for their chicks. Carnaby’s black-cockatoo is also sometimes illegally captured for the pet trade, and is often killed in collisions with cars. Fortunately, a number of conservation measures are in place to protect this large parrot. Captive breeding is underway, and Carnaby’s black-cockatoo is legally protected in the wild. Key areas of habitat are being protected and restored, and BirdLife Australia runs a survey known as the ‘Great Cocky Count’ to map this species’ populations.


Find out more about Carnaby’s black-cockatoo at WWF Australia and the Australian Government.

See images and videos of Carnaby’s black-cockatoo on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Aug 30

Beyond the signature kangaroo or koala, did you know that Australia is also home to a wide range of lesser-known and somewhat bizarre-looking species such as the spotted handfish or the southern hairy-nosed wombat?  With astounding habitats including Barrow Island, the Great Barrier Reef, and the outback, we thought we would take the opportunity to highlight just some of the unique species found in this spectacular land!

Weedy wader Leafy seadragon swimming

The leafy seadragon is endemic to Australia, meaning it is found nowhere else on Earth. Living in shallow coastal waters, these slow-moving creatures call underwater seagrass meadows home, blending in perfectly due to their leaf-like appendages.

King croc

Immature saltwater crocodile swimming underwater

The largest of all crocodilians, the saltwater crocodile roams both the land and sea. By using its powerful tail and webbed hind feet, this species is an effective aquatic predator. The saltwater crocodile feasts on large land animals such as wallabies, dingoes, and even humans!

The face of climate change

Found only in northern Australia, the lemuroid ringtail possum may become Australia’s first victim of global climate change. Being unable to withstand temperatures over 86°F (30°C), this species is extremely vulnerable to heatwaves, which are expected to increase in frequency as the climate changes. In fact, a heatwave in 2005 was thought to have wiped out the entire population until a few individuals were finally discovered in 2009.

Misunderstood marsupial

Adult Tasmanian devil

Known for its frightening nocturnal screeches, the Tasmanian devil is the largest of the carnivorous marsupials. Contrary to its savage reputation, the Tasmanian devil is actually quite shy and is only aggressive when feeling threatened or when in competition with other devils.

Snack and swim

Dugong with remoras

Strictly feeding on plants, the dugong is often referred to as the ‘sea cow’, but it is actually more closely related to elephants than cows! Found off the coast of northern Australia, the dugong uses its flexible upper lip to rip whole plants apart, leaving ‘feeding trails’ on the sea floor. What a messy eater!

Water-free wallaby

Black-footed rock wallaby with young on rock

Found throughout Australia, the black-footed wallaby lives its life in groups of 10 to 100 individuals. Found primarily in rock piles and granite outcrops, this wallaby feasts mostly on grasses and fruit, and, interestingly, obtains nearly all of its water through its food.

Burrow builder

Southern hairy-nosed wombat

An expert digger, the southern hairy-nosed wombat is able to construct burrows that support a constant inside temperature of 78°F in the summer and 57.2 °F in the winter. These burrows are often formed as networks of up to thirty meters long that can host five to ten wombats.

Smooth sailing

Sugar glider on branch preparing to leap

The softly furred sugar glider uses the membrane along its body to glide distances of up to 150 feet between trees. This agile possum also has a rather distinctive alarm call, which is said to resemble a yapping dog!

Cultural croaker

Northern corroboree frog

Found only in the northern Australian Alps and the Australian Capital Territory, the northern corroboree frog has a local cultural story attached to its name. ‘Corroboree’ is an aboriginal word used to describe a gathering, where traditionally attendees are adorned with brightly colored yellow markings similar to those of this frog.

Aquatic ambler

Spotted handfish

A fish with ‘hands’ that can walk the ocean floor? It’s true! The spotted handfish, one of the world’s most endangered fish, is able to use its characteristic ‘hand-like’ fins to walk the sea floor, occasionally sucking on prey like shrimp and small fish. Threatened by development, a restricted distribution and a low reproductive rate, the spotted handfish population may be restored in the future through successful re-introduction programs.

If you’re looking to continue your ‘walkabout’ around Australia on ARKive, check out the new Barrow Island topic page or search the 1,200+ Australian species on ARKive today. Feel free to share your favorite Aussie species in the comments below!

Jade Womack, Education & Outreach Intern, Wildscreen USA


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