Why we need to compete with Kim Kardashian to save Australian species
Updated: May 18
Australia has at least 52 mammals more at risk of extinction than China’s Giant Panda. 43 are officially ‘endangered’ and nine are ‘critically endangered’. But virtually no-one except a handful of conservation biologists seems to be aware of these remarkable Australian creations, let alone name or identify them. In contrast, just about everyone in Australia knows of Kim Kardashian. Even the many thousands of people like me who don’t want to know about her.
Kim Kardashian is a communication machine. She has 345 million followers on Instagram, 42 million likes on TikTok and 75 million followers on Twitter. And in the words of one my friends, “what has Kim Kardashian got to say anyway that’s so important?”. Kim Kardashian is famous for being famous. She was Paris Hilton’s Executive Assistant and largely unknown until the leak in 2007 of a sex tape of her with her boyfriend. In contrast, Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner who leads our fight against extinction doesn’t have Instagram or TikTok accounts and only has 11,700 followers on Twitter.
Five of Australia’s best conservation scientists recently wrote about recovery success stories of species like our iconic bilbies, mala wallabies and humpbacked whales. Professors Woinarski, Garnett, Legge, Gillespie, Lintermans and Rumpff found that recovery had been “a hard journey, marked by vision" and "committed management”. They noted that “long-term commitment” rather than “short-term and sporadic conservation funding” was essential.
Australians identify with our unique wildlife. That’s why we name our sporting teams after them, and put them on our coat of arms, our money and the tail of our national airline Qantas. But if we want to save our endangered species, Australians need to know what we’re losing and demand stronger and more consistent policy action from governments.
We’ve already lost so much. Eight of our wallaby species are extinct and 16 more are at risk.
Effort flows where attention is focused. So if we want to save our remaining wildlife, the conservation community and everyone who cares about nature needs to compete actively with Kim Kardashian. I’m not saying we need to start dressing our wildlife up in skimpy bikinis. But we do need concerted communications efforts that turn Australians' attention from the crassness of Kim Kardashian to our unique wallabies, numbats, bandicoots, quolls and bettongs. That means getting much more proactive on telling interesting and relatable stories about our wildlife. And it means engaging with the community through the channels and platforms that they use, like Instagram and TikTok!
We’ll know we’re winning when more Australians recognise a quoll or mala wallaby than Kim Kardashian.
For the record, I’m proud of Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner for doing her best like I did in that position from 2015 to 2017.
PS: I have to thank and acknowledge my good friend Nicola Toki from Aotearoa NZ for first pointing me to the impact of the #Kardashians on conservation.