We investigated how the socio-political and ecological environment are associated with the conservation management strategies for two rare, endemic and almost identical Australian white-tailed black-cockatoos: Baudin's (Calyptorhynchus baudinii) and Carnaby's black-cockatoo (C. latirostris). Substantially less investment and action has occurred for Baudin's black-cockatoo. Interviews with key informants revealed that this disparity has probably arisen because Baudin's black-cockatoo has long been considered a pest to the apple industry, lives primarily in tall forests and has had little research undertaken on its biology and threats. By contrast, Carnaby's black-cockatoo has been the subject of one of the longest running research projects in Australia, is highly visible within the urban environment and does not appear to affect the livelihoods of any strong stakeholder group. We suggest the social context within which recovery efforts occur could be an important determinant in species persistence. We argue that social research is fundamental to a better understanding of the nature of efforts to conserve particular species, the factors associated with these efforts and their likelihood of success.