When he was just seven, Beau Fahnle forged a connection to the natural world. Since then, his fascination with animals and Mother Nature has only grown stronger. In a span of three decades, the Australian has studied alternatives to commercial fishing and worked as a ranger on Phillip Island in Australia, and is currently the Sanctuary Manager of Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand.
Even in his downtime, Fahnle enjoys getting out and discovering the beautiful wilderness around him with hobbies such as gardening and fishing. In fact, his love for plants is so comparable to his love for wildlife that he readily admits he could happily be a gardener.
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Fahnle, despite being relatively young at 40, has already personally worked with over 32 different species across Australasia. One of his self-described key career highlights has been the eradication of foxes on Phillip Island, which allowed his team to later bring in and protect critically endangered animals such as the eastern barred bandicoot.
Following the completion of this project, Fahnle cast about for a meaningful cause he could have an impact on and found himself drawn to Cape Sanctuary. There, he is presently working on implementing a sustainable ecotourism programme and hopes to be able to turn the tide of kiwi extinction in New Zealand. Cape Sanctuary is a unique wildlife restoration project established in 2006 on the Cape Kidnappers peninsula and accessible to guests of The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, a luxury resort in the North Island owned by Robertson Lodges.
To that end, Cape Sanctuary is already making significant strides. In the last 12 months alone, the project has already fostered and released over five Taheke chicks and 40 juvenile kiwis back into the wild, contributing to the recovery of these vulnerable native species.
We uncovered more about Fahnle’s thoughts on wildlife conservation and his atypical career path in a recent interview.
Quotient: What is your typical day at work like?
Fahnle: One of the best things about working in conservation is the diversity of the work. There is no “typical” day. Depending on what may have happened, there is always something to deal with. Generally, my day consists of a mix of monitoring the species under my care and dealing with any issues surrounding them, which include pest control, staff management, planning work schedules, tours, administrative work, volunteer coordination, community and stakeholder communication, building and repairs as well as a thousand and one other things that may pop up. It pays to have a wide range of skills in this game.
Which one native species would you say is your favourite and why?
The Takahe is my favourite New Zealand native. Not only do they have masses of personality but the fact that they were thought to be extinct for over 50 years and rediscovered around 70 years ago just makes them so special. There are just over 300 birds now in existence and Cape Sanctuary has been able to produce over 10 more birds to add to the recovery program.
What is the fondest memory you have of interacting with wildlife?
The best moments are when you have been caring for an animal and are able to release it back into the wild. I was once helping to care for an albatross, which are such majestic yet fragile creatures. After months of daily feeding, the day came when it was finally strong enough to be released. We had to wait for the wind to be strong enough and to blow from the right direction upon a headland. These are very large seabirds and need quite a run-up and wind speed to take off. Watching the bird stretch out its giant wings while it soared into the sky and circled us a single time before disappearing into the horizon is something I will never forget.
Where are your favourite wildlife-spotting destinations?
Hervey Bay in Queensland, Australia is brilliant for viewing humpback whales in August and September. Phillip Island and Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, Australia are great for wildlife viewing all year round. Cape Sanctuary if you want to see a kiwi! Two places I would love to visit to see wildlife are Africa and Antarctica.
When and how did you become interested in conservation?
Ever since I was a child I have had a fascination with animals and the natural world. A family holiday to stay with a friend who was a lighthouse keeper on an island off the east coast of Australia when I was seven years old forged a connection to the natural world that still exists today. I studied applied science in aquaculture after high school as I had an interest in providing alternatives to commercial fishing.
As my career progressed I realised that there is a lot more I could achieve in natural resource management. I was living and working on Phillip Island in Victoria, Australia and was lucky enough to have an opportunity to become a ranger there, primarily protecting little penguins. Phillip Island Nature Parks is a fantastic organisation that uses ecotourism to fund conservation and whilst working there, I was able to work on some incredible conservation programs and learn off some of the leaders in the field. Without the money that ecotourism brings in, these programs simply would not exist.
What or who would you say has been the biggest influence on your career?
I have been fortunate to work with some great leaders and mentors in my time and learnt a lot by working with people at the end of their careers. These people have a wealth of experience; they have seen it all and know what to do in most situations. Natural resource management can be complex and mistakes are easily made. Sometimes you only get one shot at it, so to be able to learn from experienced mentors is so important. I do worry that in our changing workforce structure, we are losing these mentors and whole generations of knowledge are being lost.
Two individuals who have influenced me are Peter Dann, who is the research manager at Phillip Island Nature Parks, for producing outcomes that saved whole populations of animals, and Tim Bloomfield, who has been involved in pest control in Australia for over 40 years and has been a personal mentor to me. One of my biggest inspirations is the late Steve Irwin, not only for the passion he showed towards wildlife conservation but for blazing his own trial and doing things in an alternative way that worked. I believe he has managed to leave a wonderful legacy that will inspire and fund generations of conservationists to come.
How do you think travellers can contribute to wildlife conservation?
By far the biggest way travellers can contribute is to make wise choices about where they spend their money. Tourism companies that exploit animals and resources for profit without consideration of sustainability or the environment should be avoided at all cost. The best way to stop these companies is simply to take away their income stream.
Look for eco-accredited tours and experiences that give back to the conservation of the wildlife they are working with. I am a big believer that ecotourism can fund conservation. I have seen how it can work well and think it will be a big part of how we conserve the natural world in the future.
What are the common misconceptions people have about wildlife conservation? What advice would you give people who are interested in contributing to wildlife conservation?
Probably about the cost and amount of work involved. Working with natural systems can be complex and may involve excruciating amounts of work for tiny but important outcomes. Time and cost are huge factors and, generally, most conservation programmes are underfunded. Another misconception is the importance of biodiversity as a contributing factor to the survival of humankind. Biodiversity loss is a far bigger threat than climate change yet receives nowhere near the coverage or funding. We are in the middle of a crisis and without increased efforts, we are going to lose the battle.
What goals do you hope Cape Sanctuary can achieve in the next three years?
I am hoping that in the next three years, Cape Sanctuary will be able to operate with the majority of its funding generated through ecotourism. This will bring long-term sustainability to the project. I also hope to double the amount of kiwi chicks we produce for other conservation projects around New Zealand. We currently creche around 30 baby kiwi that end up going back to the forests of New Zealand. With kiwis currently declining by 2% per year, one of the strategies to turn the tide of extinction is to get more birds out there. This is something I think Cape Sanctuary can really contribute to at a national level.