Australia should consider 'leasing' its rare and endangered wildlife as 'ambassadors for conservation' to raise cash for conservation programs, similar to what China already does with the giant panda.
That is the parting advice from Australia's Threatened Species commissioner, Gregory Andrews, who is leaving after three years in the job.
"Each panda bear that's overseas from China brings in at least $1 million a year on a novated lease," Mr Andrews told Radio National Breakfast.
"That's something that I've been encouraging … the same principle here in Australia, sharing some of our wildlife, of course with the utmost care and only with the most reputable zoos, but using that money to fund the conservation actions back here in Australia."
The retiring commissioner also claimed Victoria's critically endangered Leadbeater's possum had made a spectacular recovery in recent years.
It's not all about land clearing
He said rising land clearing rates in Queensland were not the biggest problem for Australia's declining biodiversity.
Rather, the number one threat is the feral cat, followed by foxes, fire, habitat loss and climate change.
"If you look at where we've had the greatest rates of faunal decline, where Australia has had the highest levels of reductions in our animals has been on the Nullarbor Plain," he said.
"On the Nullarbor Plain, I can tell you there is virtually no land clearing.
"So, we focus on all the threats. The Threatened Species Strategy has a specific action area on habitat, and we invest a huge amount in habitat restoration".
The former commissioner, who is moving to the senior executive ranks of the Department of Foreign Affairs, argued that animals such as the orange-bellied parrot and the platypus could raise cash for biodiversity conservation.
"The orange-bellied parrots that no longer are breeding, that are too old to breed, or don't have the right genes, they could be sent to some of the world's best zoos and be ambassadors for conservation like China does.
"Australia (is sharing) two platypus with San Diego Zoo in San Diego (and) in return, San Diego Zoo will be investing half a million dollars in platypus eDNA back here in Australia."
And he said there was good news for the critically endangered Leadbeater's possum.
Mr Andrews said when he took the job in 2014 he was told there were only about 2,000 of the animals in the wild in Victoria.
"What I've been told by two of Australia's best mammal scientists is that there could be well over 20,000 Leadbeater's possums now, but also, that the possums are better adapting to wood-harvested areas than we thought previously," he said.
The commissioner confirmed Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg had recently asked the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to review possum protection, opening the door to downgrading the species' critically endangered status.
Calls for more powers for environmental watchdogs
Mr Andrews is moving on after three years in the job, with a new commissioner yet to be appointed and mixed feelings amongst key conservation groups about the effectiveness of the on-going role.
The concerns include a lack of independent political clout and significant new funding.
"Despite his efforts, there are now more species on the threatened list, habitat protection funding is non-existent and threats like runaway habitat bulldozing and climate change are getting worse", according to Dr Martin Taylor, WWF manager of Protected Areas and Conservation Science.
Lyndon Schneiders, National Campaigns Manager for the Wilderness Society said: "We need someone whose job is not to 'brightside' and sugar-coat when governments are failing — and this has been the reality under Mr Andrews".
WWF praised the out-going commissioner personally, but said he hadn't turned around the extinction crisis.
"We enjoyed working with Gregory, a passionate and tireless commissioner. Sadly, the commissioner's scope for changing the game is frustrated by not holding the purse strings, and not having compliance oversight," Dr Taylor said.
The Wilderness Society wants to see a more powerful and independent role.
"A senior and powerful voice inside Government who is an advocate for Australian wildlife and nature is a good thing," according to the society's Mr Schneiders.
He said Australia's environment policy needed a shake-up.
"We need new national environment laws that don't just triage the worst of what's happening in the natural environment … we need a strong and independent institution, like a national Environment Protection Authority."
Mr Schneiders said a statutorily independent EPA should have "the power and authority to force the Government into action and actually deliver plans and policies that protect and strengthen the environment, rather than simply managing the long-term decline of the natural world, which is what our existing laws are doing."