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Animal conservationist honoured

Antony Perry

12 April 2018: Growing up on a property outside Wellington, a small town in country New South Wales, Atticus Fleming developed a love for animals at a young age.

“I was exposed to books from a young age – many of which had endangered African wildlife on the pages,” Dr Fleming said. “It sparked a passion for wildlife and the natural world that has always been with me.”

There was little doubt in his mind that he would pursue a career in animal conservation, but the extent to which he would succeed in his chosen profession mightn’t have been as clear.

Fast forward over 40 years and Dr Fleming, the Chief Executive of Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), is poised to accept his latest personal accolade, an honorary doctorate from the University of Canberra.

The 48-year-old is being recognised for his outstanding role as a community leader and his dedication to improving the conservation of Australian native wildlife.

Managing nearly five million hectares around Australia, AWC is the largest private owner of land for conservation in the world. Under the direction of Dr Fleming and AWC’s philanthropist founder, the late Martin Copley, AWC developed an innovative new approach to conservation in Australia, integrating science, philanthropy and a strong commitment to practical land management.

The organisation has over 50 ecologists working to deliver the largest non-government biological survey and field research program in Australia. This is in addition to large-scale feral animal control and fire management programs.

Dr Fleming said AWC was succeeding in changing the fortunes of the country’s endangered species.

“Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world, but AWC has developed a new approach to conservation that is allowing us to protect and restore threatened species in some of the most remote areas of Australia, turning back the tide of extinctions,” he said.

“To be recognised by the University of Canberra is an honour that highlights the fact we are making a difference. The recognition puts the spotlight on our efforts and is just reward for our hard-working team.”

In 2016, AWC struck an historic agreement with the New South Wales government to deliver science and land management across a 35,600-hectare area of the iconic Pilliga Forest. AWC is returning species, such as the Bilby, to the area which have been extinct in New South Wales national parks for over a century.

Dr Fleming said the arrangement, which reached a pivotal milestone earlier this month, represented a significant step forward for animal conservation in Australia.

“Along with a similar partnership with the Department of Defence to manage the Yampi military training area in the Kimberley, the New South Wales agreement provides a ground-breaking model for collaboration which harnesses the strengths of the public sector and the private non-profit sector,” Dr Fleming said.

Dr Fleming was a finalist for Western Australia in the 2014 Australian of the Year awards and in 2016, he was named by Australian Geographic as one of 30 Conservation Heroes who have had the greatest influence on Australian conservation over the last 30 years.

He was previously an adviser to Robert Hill, Australia’s longest serving Federal Environment Minister, and spent three years advising on constitutional and environmental law with the Attorney-General’s Department.