Keeping selective native mammals as human companions: an unevaluated conservation strategy

Friday 15 September, 2017
Mathews Theatre C, UNSW Kensington campus

Prof Mike Archer didn’t set out to be an advocate for native animals as pets; sometimes stuff just happens. In his case it began when he was a PhD student in the late 1960s focused on carnivorous marsupials and a friend offered him the chance to raise a laboratory-bred baby Western Quoll (Dasyurus geoffroii). The experience changed his life. Unfortunately, soon after Mike moved to Brisbane, he mouthed an introduced Cane Toad and died in his arms 20 minutes later from bufotoxins, at the middling age of five. That tragic loss of Mike's special spotted mate was just the beginning for him of many years raising and interacting with a wide range of native mammals in domestic situations. While not all proved as suitable for flats or houses as that Quoll, most proved to be very affectionate, interactive and highly tractable — often as or more so than dogs, and far more so than cats. The fact that cats, dogs, mice, rats, rabbits and a host of other introduced species are defended as the only appropriate companions for humans reflects an arrogance that ignores the geographic accidents of history. If Aborigines had colonised Europe before Europeans colonised Australia, global views about appropriate animal companions might be very different than those we now cling to in Australia. How many species now extinct in Australia might still be with us if we had embraced them as potential best friends? It is known with certainty, for example, that Tasmanian colonists kept Thylacines (Thylacinus cynocephalus) as pets. If the practice had not been illegal, would Thylacines now be extinct?


Mike Archer was born in Sydney but grew up in the USA. After graduating from Princeton University he returned to Australia, did his PhD in the University of Western Australia, became Curator of Mammals at the Queensland Museum, Lecturer in the University of New South Wales, Director of the Australian Museum in Sydney, Dean of Science at the University of New South Wales and now a Professor and member of the PANGEA Research Center at UNSW. His research focuses on the deep past such as the World Heritage fossil deposits at Riversleigh, the fragile present such as conservation through sustainable use of native resources including having native animals as pets, securing the future based on the wisdom of the fossil record, and trying to bring extinct species (e.g., the Gastric-brooding Frog and the Thylacine) back into the world of the living. He has supervised/co-supervised more than 80 research student degrees, produced over 315 scientific publications including 15 books and received a range of awards including Fellowships in the Australian Academy of Science, Royal Society of NSW, Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Australian College of Educators, Eureka Prize for Promotion of Science and Member of the Order of Australia.