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Australia has some truly incredible wildlife: egg-laying mammals, kangaroos that live in trees, desert-dwelling frogs and more species of reptile than anywhere else on Earth.

Unfortunately we’ve also managed to give our native species a fair old hiding. No other country has suffered more mammal extinctions in recent history than Australia. In the past 100 years we’ve lost more than 55 animal species. In addition, another 372 animal species are currently classified as threatened, the majority of which most people have never heard of.

And they’re still declining. An extensive national park system has not proved enough to counter to the impact of land clearing, feral predators and massively altered fire regimes, amongst other things.

The local pub is perhaps not the place you would expect to hear novel biodiversity conservation solutions, but that’s precisely where I recently watched Professor Hugh Possingham from the University of Queensland present an unorthodox proposal for saving Australia’s threatened wildlife. In debate organized as part of the 10th International Congress of Ecology, Hugh argued that the way to save threatened species is to hold a rather unconventional lottery.

Australians love gambling. It’s a well-accepted fact that we’ll wager a bet on just about anything. We even have public holidays just so we can bet on horse races. So why not take this socially damaging propensity and use it for good?

Hugh’s proposal goes as follows:

  • Put the name of each Australian threatened and endangered species into a lottery barrel.
  • Each year right before the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s biggest horse race, get the environment minister (currently ex-Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett) to spin the barrel and draw out a species name.
  • Whatever proportion of that species’ population lives on a piece of land, the owner of that land — be it a private individual, an indigenous group, an NGO, a corporation, or even a state government — receives the equivalent proportion of $20 million — less than 0.4 percent of annual gambling revenue in Australia.
  • Have the winning species, along with facts about it and where it lives, published on the front page of Australian papers along with the Melbourne Cup-winning racehorse.
This scheme would provide the incentive for landowners not just to protect but actively enhance populations of threatened species on their properties.

It would also help to address endangered species’ marketing issues — you can bet people would be keen to know if they have threatened and endangered species on their properties. Soon enough people will be championing the boggomoss snail just as they champion racehorses.

I’ve often heard senior staff at The Nature Conservancy talk about game-changing conservation strategies. If Hugh’s idea catches on, “game-changing” might be a more appropriate term than they could have guessed.

-- Text by Eddie Game, Cool Green Science Blog

Related on MNN:

An endangered species lottery?
Unconventional concept provides incentive for landowners to seek out and protect threatened species on their properties.