From 2013 to 2017, listening to the gentle ‘ding ding’ of the night parrot was forbidden. Long feared extinct, when the bird (Pezoporus occidentalis) was rediscovered, officials in Australia decided to restrict both location data and recordings of its signature call for fear that poachers and enthusiasts might use the information to track and disturb the creatures. Yet when the recordings were declassified and shared last year, conservationists were delighted by what followed: at least three new populations have since been discovered by people using the call to recognize the birds.
Since the bird’s rediscovery in 2013, the Australian government has put in place proper conservation safeguards, such as making it illegal to approach the creature’s habitat. It’s a good example of authorities weighing up the risks and benefits of publicizing the discovery of a rare species and then reaching a sensible compromise. That kind of decision process is increasingly in demand, as data sources and sharing proliferate beyond conventional academic audiences in ways that risk, for example, helping hunters and illegal wildlife traders to track down target species.