James Binkhorst is a wildlife biologist and Victorian wildlife team leader based in Avisure’s southern office.
He has an enduring interest in wildlife, in fact ever since he was a small boy, so it was natural, as a teenage learner driver, that his ‘mum suggested zoo trips to get my driving hours up’. They combined driving lessons with trips to wildlife parks and zoos across Queensland and New South Wales. One of the most memorable he says, was ‘driving from Brisbane to the Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo’, a 1700km round trip.
While undertaking his undergraduate degree in applied science at the University of Queensland’s Gatton Campus, James continued his wildlife engagement by volunteering at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane and the Australia Zoo, north of the city.
He started with Avisure while holidaying in Canada, joining the team at Vancouver International Airport in airside dispersal and touring the coastline by boat monitoring wildlife. For an Australian wildlife biologist, it was a unique experience to observe North American species, ‘seeing the coyotes on the airport, and thousands of migrating snow geese’.
With Avisure he has had the opportunity to conduct wildlife surveys at 27 civil and defence airports; as well as hundreds of locations surrounding them across Australia, New Zealand and Canada, including some of the most remote locations in Australia. ‘When I began as an aviation wildlife biologist, I never expected to see the huge variety of wildlife I’ve seen on airports. Over the years I’ve observed, rescued and relocated some incredible species, even ones I had never expected to see such as my favourite: the feather-tailed glider. That was in East Sale. I spotted it on the ground while driving along the taxiway – although they’re a nocturnal species, there had been strong winds the night before, so it must have been blown off course.’
James says he has had some amazing experiences so far as part of the Avisure team, but two stand out: a trip to the Northern Territory surveying a flying-fox colony near Katherine and helping at the RAAF Edinburgh Air Show. ‘The NT flying fox colony couldn’t be accessed by road, so I was lucky to go up in an AW 139 helicopter to survey, and what made it particularly special, it was on my birthday’, he says. ‘The Edinburgh Air Show was also an incredible experience. We were stationed adjacent to the flight path monitoring and reporting hazardous wildlife to air traffic control. It was hard to stay focused on monitoring the airspace for wildlife with aircraft completing high speed manoeuvres and acrobatics overhead!’
What does he like most about his role? ‘I love the opportunity to see remote locations that the general public will never get to see.’ He has also become an aviation aficionado. ‘I like the aircraft, learning about the various types and the manoeuvres they can perform.’ The wildlife component is always surprising you, too, he says, with ‘unexpected visitors, like echidnas on Melbourne Airport, or (the New Zealand equivalent) hedgehogs strolling along at Te Anau Airport.
When he’s not working, James can be found out and about on weekends (armed with his trusty pair of binoculars), rock climbing or snowboarding.