Failure to act quickly on evidence of rapid population decline has led to the first mammal extinction in Australia in the last 50 years, the Christmas Island Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi). The fate of another iconic species, the migratory Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster), monitored intensively for over 20 years, hangs in the balance. To inform future conservation management and decision making, we investigate the decision process that has led to the plight of both species. Our analysis suggests three globally relevant recommendations for minimizing species extinction worldwide: (1) informed, empowered, and responsive governance and leadership is essential; (2) processes that ensure institutional accountability must be in place, and; (3) decisions must be made whilst there is an opportunity to act. The bottom line is that, unless responsive and accountable institutional processes are in place, decisions will be delayed and extinction will occur.