Black Kite fire

This is a flyer for a seminar that Dr Mark Bonta of Pennsylvania State University, Erana Jae Loveless from the University of Arizona and I will present at the Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods (RIEL), Charles Darwin University on 2 September 2016 at 1pm.

If you are in Darwin please come along.

Ethnographic interviews with Aboriginal fire managers and others across northern Australia reveal that certain raptors that visit fire fronts to access fleeing prey pick up burning brands and transport them to unburnt areas.

Observers assert that the behavior is intentional and that it results in prolongation and expansion of bushfires in the landscape.

Anecdotal historical reports from qualified observers support the hypothesis that this is a hitherto-undocumented tool-using behaviour that, if verified to satisfy the standards of Western ecologists, will have important ramifications for understanding pyrophytic landscape evolution as well as human-bird relationships.

In this talk, the research team will present its findings from the prior week’s field visit to Ngukurr and collaboration with Aboriginal collaborators. In addition to a discussion of material evidence, we will also contextualize the phenomenon within Aboriginal religious conceptions of bird-fire-human relationships.


Mark Bonta is a cultural-historical geographer and philosopher, specializing in ethno-ornithology, cycad ethnobotany, and assemblage theory. He is currently assistant professor of earth science at the Altoona College of Pennsylvania State University.

Robert Gosford is a lawyer and ethno-ornithologist based in the Northern Territory. He focuses on the imbrication of Aboriginal religious practices and biological knowledge, with an emphasis on bird knowledge, and is particularly interested in the application of appropriate multi-ethnographic and cross-disciplinary methodologies for ethnobiological research.

Erana Jae Loveless is a PhD candidate, GIS technician, pyrodendrochronologist, and ecological anthropologist at the Fire and Restoration Ecology Lab and Laboratory for Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona.  She specializes in the intersection of human fire use, fauna, and landscape change over time.


Charles Darwin University

Ellengowan Drive
Building Red 6.1.10
Casuarina NT 0810


The Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods (RIEL) is a Tier 1 institute that consolidates CDU’s environmental and natural resource management research. It comprises around 50 scientists and 10 support staff, and hosts and trains some 75 PhD students (roughly one-third international), and are assisted by about 75 honorary adjunct research fellows in partner institutions, industry and government.