The hill on which the property is situated rises to a height of 237 feet (72 m) and is a spur of Mount Clarence. The soil is a mixture of clay and gravel with rich black loam on the lower side.
The farm was initially established in 1827 for the first Government Resident in Albany, when the first Europeans settled at King George SoundEdmund Lockyer, Alexander Collie and John Lawrence Morley selected the site as a government farm. Originally it occupied an area of 1,536 acres (622 ha) but only 6 acres (2 ha) remain today. The next three commandants of the settlement, Captain Wakefield, Lieutenant Sleeman and Captain Collet Barker, followed Lockyer's plan of continuing to develop the farm.
Alexander Collie was appointed Government Resident of Albany in 1831 and moved into a wattle and daub cottage situated on the farm. He named the property Strawberry Hill after the small plot of strawberries he was cultivating. Collie retired in 1832 and his successor was D. H. Macleod but it was the farm superintendent John Lawrence Morley who handed the property onto Richard Spencer.
Spencer was appointed as Government Resident in 1833; he acquired the farm and resided there with his wife, Ann, and his ten children. Spencer arranged for the erection of a granite two-storey building at the rear end of the original wattle and daub structure at a cost of £100. The garden was now well established and producing blood oranges, raspberries, grapes, asparagus, figs and almonds. The first visitors to stay in the new building included Charles Darwin and Captain Robert FitzRoy, of HMS Beagle
The old thatched roof wattle and daub part of the main residence burned down in 1870. A second cottage was built by Charles Miner in the same year.
Francis Bird, the Chief Architect of Western Australia, acquired the property in 1889 and changed the name from Strawberry Hill to the Old Farm. His family retained ownership of the farm until the 1930s.
The site lay derelict for many years until purchased by the Federal Government in 1956 and it was then vested in the National Trust of Australia in 1964. Conservation work commenced shortly afterwards and it was later opened to the public.
Thousands of people visit the farm each year and enjoy the beautiful and historic gardens
Open Monday to Friday from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, CLOSED LAST TWO WEEKS OF JULY AND ALL OF AUGUST. CLOSED CHRISTMAS DAY, BOXING DAY, NEW YEAR DAY & GOOD FRIDAY.
Misery Beach is a peaceful secluded beach, sheltered from the prevailing winds and swell with beautiful views of King George Sound with its rugged coast and islands. It is only about 200 metres long with pristine squeaky white sand. An impressive granite headland - part of Isthmus Hill - forms one end, while a rocky point marks the other.
On a clear day you can see the tops of the Stirling Range. I am not sure where the name comes from but as the whaling station is just a few hundred metres away, maybe it was named back in the time it was still operating, when the whale blood would wash ashore here. Today it is a beach to enjoy and contemplate life as you listen to the soothing sounds of the waves.
Mistaken Island is an island located approximately 5 kilometres south-east of Albany, Western Australia.
Located in King George Sound the island is located approximately 120 metres from Vancouver peninsula.
The area is a fantastic location to take a dip in crystal clear water. From Mistaken Island Beach you can swim or paddle to the island
In 1971, the island was declared as a class 1A Nature Reserve with a total area of 12 hectares The area adjacent to the island is used to cultivate mussels on long lines.
The island received its name for the fact little penguin burrows were mistaken for rabbit holes and the island has also been historically referred to as Rabbit Island. If you come at the right time of the year you might even see fairy penguins nesting in and around the Island. Please take care not to disturb them.
Lake Vancouver is the only freshwater wetland on the Vancouver Peninsula and is a significant source of water for fauna in the area. It is found within a Nature Reserve, located on the Vancouver Peninsula, about 200 m west of Goode Beach on Frenchman Bay. Because of its pristine condition and unique position so close to the ocean, the Lake Vancouver wetland is listed in the South Coast Significant Wetlands Database and is currently being used as a case study to help determine wetland buffer zone guidelines for Western Australia.
Public access has only been allowed to this amazing fresh water lake since 2012 which has contributed to its unique and pristine condition. It really is an amazing spot to visit, relatively untouched by humans and protected for future generations to enjoy. The Frenchmans Bay Association erected a Bird Hide to share this natural wonder with locals and tourists alike and encourage an appreciation of the wetlands and bird life. It is accessible from La Perouse Road in Goode Beach, or from the car park nearby with access to the beach which winds around the back end to meet up with the bird hide track walk.
Frenchman Bay is one of the few places in the world where you can relax on a white sandy beach, swim, snorkel, enjoy spectacular ocean views and witness the breathtaking sight of the annual whale migration.
FRENCHMAN BAY is located 20 kms drive south of Albany, on a spectacular area of coastline adjacent to the magnificent Torndirrup National Park, The Gap, Natural Bridge and The Historic Whaling Station, and is perfect for families, weddings and those not able to walk very far.
The perfect place to relax, Emu Point consists of a grassy sheltered lawn area ideal for picnics, calm shallow waters to wade in and and clear calm waters for safe swimming. Emu Points beach is also popular for fishing and boating. Emu Point Cafe is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a light lunch and coffee.
The Point itself is a rocky groyne with views over King George Sound and Middleton Beach from the northern end.
ALBANY'S popular Emu Point was declared Western Australias cleanest beach in 2011
Enjoy watching the fisherman come in with their catch and feed the pelicans.
Middleton Beach was named after Captain Middleton in 1934. Captain Middleton is an ancestor of Kate Middleton now married to Prince William and proud mother of 3. He brought Governor James Stirling to Western Australia. It is the main swimming beach for Albany and offers swimming and recreational beach activities. The waters are protected by King George Sound; the Southern Ocean's waves do not usually reach these sheltered waters.
Image Credit: Ben Reynolds via Albany Region
Middleton Beach has a jetty, and in summer a pontoon (a floating construction that can hold many swimmers) is placed in the ocean for delight and fun of swimmers.
At the far southern end of Middleton Beach, where the bay wraps around the headland (King Point) is called Ellen Cove. Sheltered from the strongest waves by King Head, Ellen Cove is a beautiful nook at the end of Middleton Beach and where you will find the start of The Ellen Cove Boardwalk.
Nearby you can find Three Anchors restaurant/bar/kiosk/art gallery and meeting room. A venue for people to chill with a beer, good food whilst watching the waves roll in.
Just a short stroll from Albany’s Middleton Beach, Rats Bar offers a unique Great Southern experience – the setting is friendly and intimate; the atmosphere is vibrant and relaxed.
The Brush-tailed bettong or Woylie (Bettongia penicillata) was until recently very abundant in the south west but, starting in 2006, it has suffered a dramatic decline and is now currently listed as Critically Endangered. Nobody knows why. This underlines the critical need for protection of these unique species and their habitat in a biodiversity hotspot under increasing pressure from urbanisation.
This species is strictly nocturnal and is not gregarious. It can breed all year round if the conditions are favorable. The female can breed at six months of age and give birth every 3.5 months. Its lifespan in the wild is about four to six years. The woylie is able to use its tail, curled around in a prehensile manner, to carry bundles of nesting material. It builds its dome-shaped nest in a shallow scrape under a bush. The nest, which consists of grass and shredded bark, sticks, leaves, and other available material, is well-made and hidden. The woylie rests in its nest during the day and emerges at night to feed.
The woylie has an unusual diet for a mammal. Although it may eat bulbs, tubers, seeds, insects, and resin of the hakea plant, the bulk of its nutrients are derived from underground fungi which it digs out with its strong foreclaws. These fungi can only be digested indirectly. In a portion of its stomach, the fungi are consumed by bacteria. These bacteria produce the nutrients that are digested in the rest of the stomach and small intestine. When it was widespread and abundant, the woylie likely played an important role in the dispersal of fungal spores within desert ecosystems.
The woylie once inhabited more than 60% of the Australian mainland, but now occurs on less than 1%. It formerly ranged over all of the southwest of Eastern Australia, most of South Australia, the northwest corner of Victoria, and across the central portion of New South Wales. It was abundant in the mid-19th century. By the 1920s, it was extinct over much of its range. As of 1992, it was reported only from four small areas in Western Australia. In South Australia, a several populations have been established through reintroduction of captive-bred animals. As of 1996, it occurred in six sites in Western Australia, including Karakamia Sanctuary run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, and on three islands and two mainland sites in South Australia, following the reintroduction program and the controlling of foxes. Today, this species lives mostly in open sclerophyllforest and Malee eucalyptus woodlands with a dense low understory of tussock grasses.However, this versatile species is also known to have once inhabited a wide range of habitats, including low arid scrub or desert spinifex grasslands.
"It is believed the woylie population peaked a decade ago at more than 250,000, but numbers have since declined by about 90 per cent." However, despite these losses woylies continue to thrive as small localized populations in fox- and cat-free sanctuaries, including a population at Wadderin Sanctuary in the central Western Australian wheatbelt established in 2010. Wadderin is one of very few sanctuary projects within Australia managed by a local community. The community group includes current and retired farmers and townsfolk. This project was set up to exclude foxes and feral cats and so allow reconstruction of the past native fauna.
Image Source: By arthur_chapman [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The western brush wallaby (Macropus irma), also known as the black-gloved wallaby, is a species of wallaby found in the southwest coastal region of Western Australia. The wallaby's main threat is predation by the introduced red fox (Vulpes vulpes) The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the western brush wallaby as Least Concern, as it remains fairly widespread and the population is believed to be stable or increasing, as a result of fox control programs.
The western brush wallaby has a grey colour with distinctive white colouring around the face, arms and legs (although it does have black gloves as its alternative common name implies). It is an unusually diurnalmacropod that eats mainly grass.
Little is known about the behaviour of the western brush wallaby, however much of their behavior is consistent with that of other members of the family Macropodidae.
Although quite small, the western brush wallaby's coloring resembles the larger kangaroos of the region. The western brush wallaby's head and body length usually falls around 1.2 m. Their tail length, which ranges from 54–97 cm, is proportionally long to their smaller body size. The adult western brush wallaby weighs anywhere from 7.0-9.0 kg. Their coloring consists of a pale to mid gray coat with a distinct white facial stripe. Other distinct features include black and white ears, black hands and feet, and crest of black hairs on the tail. The size of the male and female are quite similar.
The western brush wallaby is a herbivore, although there is disagreement on whether it is a browser, eating mainly leaves, or a grazer, eating mainly grass, as there has not been extensive research done. It is a diurnal animal, which is somewhat unusual for macropods, and is active during dawn and dusk, making it crepuscular. It rests during the hottest part of the day and at night either singly or in pairs, taking shelter in bushes and small thickets . The wallabies will consume most species of plants, with the Carpobrotus edulis, Cynodon dactylon, and Nuytsia floribunda being the common dietary items. One source suggests that the wallaby’s diet is made up of 3-17% of grasses and sedges, 1-7% forbs, and 79-88% browsing material (mainly the leaves of low shrubs).The stomach is divided into four compartments where microorganisms can ferment the fibrous plant material. They appear to be able to survive without free water.
Like all others in the family Macropodidae, the western brush wallabies are characterized by powerful hind limbs and long hind feet. It runs by weaving or sidestepping, utilizing its powerful hind-limbs, while keeping its head low and its tail extended straight, making it very speedy.
The track consists of 58 sections and is marked at regular intervals with triangular pointers, most of which have an image of the wagyl, a mythical creature from Aboriginal Dreamtime stories. Each section is approximately one day's walk, except for the northernmost 150 km or so, where the sections consist of half-day walks. At the end of each section is either a town or a purpose-built campsite. Each campsite consists of a three-sided shelter with wooden sleeping platforms, a water tank, a pit toilet, picnic tables and cleared tent sites. In the northern half, most campsites also have a barbecue pit and plate (open fires are banned in the southern section).
The Track is almost all through state forest, national parks and other reserves, with only a few small sections of farmland. The first half of the Track is through the Jarrah forests of the Darling Range. It then moves through flatter tall Karriforests until reaching the coastline near the town of Walpole. The remainder of the Track is through coastal forest and scrub along the south coast, in some sections routed along sandy beaches.
Marine mammals along the south coast such as seals, dolphins and whales
The Bibbulmun Track is managed by the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) and The Bibbulmun Track Foundation – an incorporated not-for-profit community-based organisation established to provide support for the DEC in the management, maintenance and marketing of the track to ensure that it remains a "long distance walk trail of international significance and quality". The foundation sells maps and guide books, offers trip planning advice, offers equipment hire and runs courses on camp cooking and navigation.
Most people choose to walk sections of the Track for one or a few days at a time. Hardy walkers who walk the Track from beginning to end typically do so in 6 to 8 weeks. The most popular time to walk the Track is during the wildflower season of spring ( September – November), going from north to south as the wildflower season starts later in the southern areas. In summer the weather can be very hot and water will be hard to find except in the water tanks at the campsites. Winter can be wet, especially in the southern areas but people walk the Track any time from March to December.
When walking on the Bibbulmun Track Walkers are encouraged to follow the 7 Leave no Trace Principles which are:
The "Valley of the Giants" is one of the main tourist draws in the area. Those with a head for heights can get a tree top view on the "Tree Top Walk" a 40 m high walk-way that can accommodate wheelchairs. Most similar canopy walks around the world are constructed using suspension bridge-type structures — not for the faint of heart. The Tree Top Walk, however, is a series of sixty-metre, lightweight steel trusses built on steel pylons to form a secure ramp. Beneath the canopy walk there is a pathway around the Tingle trees for walkers — this is known as the "Ancient Empire". A whale watching vantage point is settled at Conspicuous Beach, providing views of migrating whales (humpback and southern right) and dolphins.
he Tingle tree has evolved to cope with bush fires and can withstand low level fires. The Department of Parks and Wildlife carries out fuel reduction backburning in the national park; this limits the risk of a large scale bush fire by reducing the amount of dry leaf litter on the ground. Tingles can look completely burned in the inside but continue to survive as they grow from just under the layer of outside bark.
The park also extends to the coast, providing a range of habitats from forest to coastal heathland featuring swamp paperbark and a red flowering gum which is endemic to the region. Conspicuous Cliff is one of the few places the coast is accessible in the National Park. The area also the Walpole-Nornalup Inlets, which are fed by the Deep and Frankland Rivers.
The first European settlers to arrive in the area were Pierre Bellanger and his family in 1909. They travelled aboard the Grace Darling from Albany to take up 4,000 acres (16 km2) of land.
Land in the Walpole area was reserved for a national park in 1910, and the area subsequently became a popular holiday destination. Major development began to occur in the 1930s as part of the land settlement scheme. The railway reached Nornalup in 1929, and the Walpole town site was gazetted in 1933.
Walpole was always the preferred name, but it was believed this was already in use in Tasmania. So the newly gazetted township was officially named Nornalup, but this caused confusion with the railway terminus 13 kilometres (8 mi) east. Eventually the Post Office advised that there was no Walpole in Tasmania, and in 1934 the town reverted to its original name of Walpole.
A reserve for the townsite was put aside in 1901 and in 1905 20 lots were surveyed; the townsite was finally gazetted in 1907.
An eight metre high cricket bat has become the Great Southern's latest tourist attraction. The structure is a part of the Narrikup Cricket Club's ongoing project to build their boundary fence out of donated cricket bats.
Narrikup is neat and attractive and has won the Plantagenet Shire's Inter-Tidy Town competition six times
Lake Bryde-East Lake Bryde is a freshwater wetland system located in the Great Southern region of Western Australia. The system consists of two lakes: Lake Bryde, with an area of 50 hectares (120 acres); and East Lake Bryde, with an area of about 1.4 square kilometres (0.54 sq mi). They are located at the head of a chain of lakes that extend to Lake Magenta, and ultimately form part of the Swan-Avon drainage system. Lake Bryde is a freshwater wetland listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia
The lakes experience a regular cycle of freshwater flooding followed by gradual drying, and their vegetation depends upon that cycle for its survival. Since the 1980s, rises in the water table caused by extensive land clearing for agriculture has resulted in greatly increased salinity of the area, increasing the lakes' salt load from 160 tons to around 1200 tons. Furthermore, changes to the area's hydrology have greatly increased the frequency of flooding. These factors have caused a severe decline in the extent and condition of the shrub beds. Because of the threat to M. h. subsp. abdita and the ecological community as a whole, the lakes are protected by the Lake Bryde Nature Reserve.
The lake system has been identified as important to bird life, with sixteen bird species recorded there. It has also been found to support a substantially greater diversity of aquatic invertebrates than surrounding lake systems.
Nyabing in the Shire of Kent is a small town in the Amazing South Coast region of Western Australia. The name is of Aboriginal origin and is thought to derive from the Aboriginal word "ne-yameng" which is the name of an everlasting flower Rhodanthe manglesii.
The townsite was planned in 1911 as part of the Great Southern Railway the name given to the siding was Nampup. The name Nampup is also Aboriginal in origin and is the name of a local soak. Lots were surveyed later in the year and the town was gazetted in 1912. The name was changed later that year after several complaints that Nampup was too similar to Nannup so the town was renamed to Nyabing.
Nyabing Inn - Nyabing Inn is open 7 days a week. Call in to this typical country pub for a chat with the locals and a cold drink or two.
The Eagle's Nest
About 4 km out of Nyabing, on the road to Katanning, you will see clearly an enormous eagle's nest, out on the swamp flats. Eagles mate for life and return to the same nest year after year, unless disturbed. So far, this one hasn't been disturbed.
If you like to spot and identify birds and other animals, Nyabing will give you many opportunities to indulge this interest. A walk through the nature reserve at Nyabing Creek puts you in the midst of all kinds of wildlife and lots of sandalwood trees. The wildflowers in spring are truly spectacular.
There is lots to see and do in this tiny little town.
Places of Interest (Source: Shire of Kent)
Situated at the Memorial Park in Nyabing, this area is dedicated to the men and women who served our country. The annual ANZAC Day commemoration is held here each year on 25 April, with a march starting at the Town Hall and arriving at the park for the service.
In 1893, John Holland travelled to the Goldfields and this track marks his route. The track can be followed all the way to Coolgardie.
Nyabing Creek Nature Reserve
Nyabing Creek Nature Reserve showcases spring wildflowers and can be seen on a walk through the nature reserve, You’ll also find sandalwood trees, a resource which brought our original settlers to the area as cutters.
Located on Richmond Street, Nyabing the Settlers Hall was built to be used as a school and was officially opened in 1915. It has been moved from its original position on Martin St, where you’ll see a memorial stone, to its present setting. Over the years, the building served as a hall, the Kent Roads Board, school and a church.
Many a wildlife has been seen here including western grey kangaroo, western brush wallaby, echidna, blue tongue lizard and a huge variety of birdlife.
The log in the main street car park is all that remains of a historic salmon gum, You can see the enormous base of the trunk in the garden near the loggia. Lasting for over 100 years, it finally succumbed in 2009 and was lopped on advise from an aborist.
The Brownie Hut, as it is known locally is also a school site, Built in 1924, it has been used as a school and a youth facility.
On the outskirts of Nyabing and marked by a large granite rock that was placed on site as a memorial for this historical site which was used by explorers.
Community Federation Shed
Located in Pingrup, the Federation Shed contains relics from the history of the Shire of Kent and some local artwork.
The pink lakes are situated along the floor of a broad shallow valley that runs in a north-south direction between Nyabing and Pingrup. Over half the area is covered by bare salt lakes with no vegetation. The reason they are pink is due to a microscopic salt-loving bacteria called Halo Bacteris that produces red pigment.
The Shearer’s Monument is significant in its association with one of the main industries of the shire and its proximity to the gran bulk handling grain bin and railway station site. The replica stands on top of what the locals call the “shears shed”. The Pingrup community in conjunction with the Shire of Kent and the Pingrup Lions Club converted the shed into a shearing complex, competitions were held here every year up until 2001.
Located 40kms northeast of Pingrup, early aboriginals are believed to have sued his area as a passing and watering hole. John Holland is believed to have discovered them during his journey to the goldfields in 1893 along Holland’s Track.
Situated 35km northeast of Pingrup, Lake Bryde is an ephemeral wetland that is part of a chain of lakes. Historically Lake Bryde was used as a water source during times of drought.
The area was once a centre of the Sandalwood trade, with cutters working the area in the 1890s. Sandalwood Road is a reminder of the town's past. The town is mostly known for its "CAUTION NUDISTS CROSSING" sign on the main street, where gentlemencan create their own unique photo memento from the waist up by standing behind the sign
The area was opened for selection in 1928 with over 400 acres being allocated.Most land is now used for cereal cropping and sheep grazing for both wool and meat production.
Amelup Service Station is situated nine kilometres north of the Stirling Range National Park, surrounded by the picturesque Stirling Range and wide open farming lands. Look out for the town's comic "Nudist Crossing" and toilet blocks sectioned off with the descriptions of ewes, rams and doggy post.
The area near Paper Collar Creek near where the town stands was a meeting point for sandalwood cutters in the 1840s fow when they used to head to the port at Albany. In the early years at the height of the sandalwood trade, Paper Collar Creek was a meeting point for the sandalwood cutters as they travelled between the hinterland and the port. When they headed to town, they would dress up their shirts with collars made of paperbark to impress the ladies, and then discard the paper collar near the creek on the way back.
In 1916, 250 acres (101 ha) of land was set aside for a townsite. Although the site had not been surveyed J.G. Jenkins had already erected the first building containing dwelling, dining, refreshment and assembly rooms. Another man, J. Copeland was also constructing a building at this time. A telephone connection with Gnowangerup had also been established and mail was being received twice a week by train.
The local Agricultural Hall, constructed of Jarrah and cast iron, was opened in 1928 by the Minister of Lands, Mr. Michael H. Troy. Local members Mr. H. Stewart MLC and Mr. C. Wittenoom MLA were also present.
The main industry in town is wheat farming with the town being a Cooperative Bulk Handling receival site The receival bins are able to handle 170,000 tonnes (167,315 long tons) of grain during harvest times. In 2017 the receival site was inundated with floodwaters following a heavy rain event. The harvest had been a new record so that large amounts of grain were stored in overflow bins
Twenty-nine Australian land mammals have become extinct over the last 200 years, and 56 are currently facing extinction. These losses and potential losses represent over a third of the 315 species present at the time of European settlement.
We recently published the first review of all Australian mammals, finding that Australia has the worst rate of mammal extinctions in the world, and the situation isn’t improving thanks to feral predators such as cats.
In response, Environment Minister Greg Hunt has proposed investing in research for a cat-killing disease as a form of biological control. But while biological control will be part of the solution, it is not the silver bullet. The real solution will have to involve a change of heart.
Not a thing of the past
Most Australians know of and regret the extinction of the thylacine — but few recognise that this one extinction is symptomatic of a much more pervasive loss. Twenty-eight other mammals have become extinct since 1788, and we suspect that few would know their names, let alone of their loss.
These species are or were not obscure marginalia or predestined for oblivion. Instead many were common and played important and irreplaceable roles in our country’s ecology. These species were part of the fabric of this land. The Australian mammal fauna is the most distinctive in the world: 86% of our 315 land mammal species are found nowhere else.
Since the 1840s we’ve lost mammals at the rate of one species per decade. On current trends, there will be many more extinctions of Australian mammals in the next one or two generations: we found 56 land mammal species (more than 20% of our land mammals) are now threatened with extinction.
Out to sea the situation is a little less bleak, but more opaque. Of 58 species reported from Australian waters, six are threatened but 35 are considered Data Deficient – they may or may not be in trouble, but we don’t have enough information to be sure.
Feral cats the greatest threat
It may sound all doom and gloom — and in many respects it is — but it’s important to note that conservation can work. Both Gilbert’s potoroo and the Bridled nailtail wallaby have been brought back from the brink through dedicated effort.
So how do we go about saving the rest of Australia’s threatened mammals?
Some consider this an economic question — with X amount of dollars, we can save X number of species, but which ones? This is the argument of medical triage, a sharp prioritisation that directs funds only at the most savable and valuable species.
But this is a defeatist mentality. To advocate for species’ extinctions by choice or through disinclination is unconscionable. Triage was born on the battlefields of Napoleonic Europe, where life and death choices had to be made in minutes. It is an inappropriate analogy for biodiversity conservation.
A better analogy is with the education system. Our society accepts the obligation that all children should be schooled, and recognises the benefit to society from that premise. So too with conservation: we should recognise the obligation to attempt to safeguard all species. In a nation as affluent as ours, this can and should be a realistic objective.
Cats are the greatest threat to Australia’s mammals. Like many other threats, they are now a pervasive and deeply-entrenched problem, and we recognise that it will not be solved simply or quickly.
There are some measure we can implement immediately: translocating threatened species, establishing a network of cat-proof enclosures, and better management of dingoes and wild dogs (which can help control cat populations).
But we also need to look at long-term solutions. This has formidable challenges. Current trials in cat-baiting are promising, but we don’t yet know if they will work on a large scale. Biological control (such as a disease) may take decades to develop, and has to overcome concerns from cat owners, and risks to other Australian wildlife and cat species overseas.
Even so, controlling cats is likely to do more for the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity than any other single action.
Learning to care for our country
But we have concluded that we will not solve the mammal extinction crisis simply by repeating the same actions over and over. The problem is far more fundamental.
Conservation is not just an environmental problem; it also charts a moral landscape. How does our society fit into this land? What do we consider is important? Is it reasonable that we gift our descendants only a faint shadow of our country’s extraordinary nature?
We have worked extensively in remote Australia. We have shown old Aboriginal men and women stuffed museum specimens of now-vanished mammals, and been struck to our core by their responses: singing the song of that animal, stroking it, telling its story, crying at its loss. Here is an affinity to nature, a deep connection to our land, an ache of responsibility, that we settler Australians have not yet felt or learned. To become part of this country, to care for it properly, we need to grow some of that sense of belonging and affinity. Otherwise, extinctions will continue to be viewed as inconsequential.
Our review of the fate of Australian mammals reflects uncomfortably on our society. Without understanding of our country, without linkages to, and affinity to, its nature, and without a corresponding commitment to its well-being, our society will fit poorly in this land and these seas, and we will continue to erode the most remarkable fauna in the world.
We must accept that biodiversity conservation is not only an obligation of government, but a shared societal responsibility.
This article was co-written by Dr Andrew Burbidge, who is a co-author of the action plan. He is a Research Fellow with the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife.
That loss is also an important lesson on the consequences of acting too slowly. Hobart Zoo’s Tasmanian tiger died just two months after the species was finally given protected status.
Last year, we wrote about the last-known Christmas Island Forest Skink, an otherwise unremarkable individual affectionately known as Gump. Although probably unaware of her status, Gump was in a forlorn limbo, hoping to survive long enough to meet a mate and save her species. It was an increasingly unlikely hope.
Despite substantial effort searching Christmas Island for another Forest Skink, none was found.
Until the late 1990s, Forest Skinks were common and widespread on Christmas Island. Their population then crashed, and has now vanished. It has been a remarkable disappearance but not entirely peculiar, as it was preceded by an eerily similar pattern of decline and extinction (in 2009) for the Christmas Island Pipistrelle, the most recent Australian mammal known to have become extinct. Nor is the skink unique among the island’s native reptiles – most of them have shown similar patterns of decline.
We think Gump’s death is momentous because it probably marks the extinction of her species. If so, this will be the first Australian native reptile known to have become extinct since European colonisation – a most unwelcome distinction. (Unlike the death of an individual, extinction can be hard to prove. There are, after all, some optimists who believe Thylacines still live. For the Forest Skink, the trajectory of decline and the fruitlessness of dedicated searches provide reasonable grounds to presume extinction, although this conclusion may take some years to be officially recognised. And, of course, we’d like to be proved wrong.)
Lessons and legacies
Gump’s death might be passed over as a trivial bit of bad news and quickly forgotten. But Forest Skinks have been around since before modern humans walked out of Africa, so their extinction on our watch is not trivial. We should treat this loss with a profound respect, and seek to learn lessons that may help prevent similar losses in the future.
These are the legacies we seek from Gump’s life and death:
First, we should acknowledge that extinction is an unwelcome endpoint that is usually caused by ecological factors, but in recent times has often been compounded by deliberate human action or inaction. In most cases, extinction can be seen as a tangible demonstration of failure in policy and management, of inattention or missed opportunities.
In comparable cases elsewhere in our society, such as unexplained deaths or catastrophic governmental shortcomings, coronial inquests are instigated. Such inquests are widely recognised as a good way to learn lessons and to change practices in a way that will help avoid future failures. Inquests are also useful to acknowledge accountability, and to explain negative events to the public.
An inquiry – albeit more modest than a coronial inquest – is an appropriate response to any extinction. The presumed first extinction of an Australian reptile species would make for a worthwhile precedent: how could it have been averted, and what lessons can we learn?
We would urge that this avowed interest be further consolidated by the loss of the Christmas Island Forest Skink, with a clear statement that this extinction is momentous and deeply regretted. The government should explicitly seek to avoid future preventable extinctions (a commitment recognised internationally through the Millennium Development Goals), and should pledge to implement a more effective and successful strategy for conserving Australia’s threatened species (and biodiversity generally).
Third, it is no coincidence that two endemic vertebrate species have gone extinct on Christmas Island in the past decade, and that many other native species are declining there, despite the fact that most of the island is a national park.
Christmas Island’s extraordinary natural values are not being matched by the resources provided to manage them, or by their low profile in our national awareness. The island meets the criteria to qualify as a World Heritage site, and it is time for the government to seek such a listing.
The fourth hoped-for legacy concerns the so far successful captive breeding program for two other Christmas Island species that otherwise would have gone the same way as Gump: the endemic Blue-tailed Skink and Lister’s Gecko.
This is an admirable accomplishment. But it is at best a halfway house, because a species solely represented by individuals in cages becomes an artifice. We urge the government to commit fully to a currently proposed conservation plan for Christmas Island that seeks to allow such species to return to their natural haunts, following eradication or effective control of their primary threats such as introduced black rats, feral cats, yellow crazy ants, giant centipedes and wolf snakes.
Fifth, this extinction has largely been enacted out of public view. With the exception of a 2012 scientific paper, the few reports documenting the Christmas Island Forest Skink’s decline are not readily accessible.
There is an island-wide biodiversity monitoring program (which is admirable), yet the results of such monitoring are not routinely reported or interpreted to the public. Our society deserves to be warned of impending and unrecoverable losses, and to know when good management has averted them.
This case is not unusual: for most Australian threatened species, it is difficult if not impossible to find reliable information on population trends. This makes it difficult to prioritise management, making it likely that management responses will be initiated too late, and it severely limits public awareness of conservation issues. We recommend the development of a national biodiversity monitoring program that would allow ready public access to information about trends in threatened and other species.
It is 78 years since the death of the last Thylacine. Our photographs of extinct Australian animals are now taken in colour, rather than black and white. But has anything else improved? We hope it will.
When it comes to mammal extinctions, Australia’s track record over the last 200 years has been abysmal. Since European settlement, nearly half of the world’s mammalian extinctions have occurred in Australia – 19 at last count. So, when faced with the additional threat of climate change, how do we turn this around and ensure the trend doesn’t continue?
Learning from previous extinctions is a good place to start. A comparison between two Australian species, the recently extinct Christmas Island pipistrelle and the critically endangered but surviving orange-bellied parrot, provides some insight into the answer to this question. Namely, that acting quickly and decisively in response to evidence of rapid population decline is a key factor in determining the fate of endangered species.
A bat and a parrot
Endemic to Christmas Island, the pipistrelle was a tiny (3.5 gram) insect-eating bat. It was first described in 1900, when numbers were widespread and abundant. In the early 1990s this began to change. The decline was rapid and the exact cause uncertain. By 2006, experts were calling for a captive breeding program to be initiated. These pleas were ignored until 2009 when it was finally given the green light. Sadly the decision came too late, and two months later the Federal Minister of Environment announced that the rescue attempt had failed.
Concern about the orange-bellied parrot began in 1917, but it wasn’t until 1981 that it was confirmed to be on the brink of extinction. In an attempt to save the parrot, a multi-agency, multi-government recovery team was set up and a captive breeding program began in 1983. Like the bat, threats to the parrot remain poorly understood. In 2010, monitoring showed that the species would become extinct in the wild within three to five years unless drastic action was taken. The recovery team immediately took action to bolster the captive population as insurance against extinction. There are currently 178 birds in captivity and less than 20 in the wild.
What do these two tales tell us about how me might avoid future Australian extinctions? It seems that one of the main differences, and perhaps the difference over which we have the most control, were the decision-making processes involved.
How we manage endangered species ultimately comes back to the decisions made, including who makes the decisions, who is held accountable, and the timing of these decisions. Examining these cases in the context of decision-making reveals some clear differences and highlights some important recommendations for the future management of endangered species.
Leadership, accountability, and timely action
One of the key differences was in the governance and leadership surrounding the two cases. Experts involved in monitoring the pipistrelle provided recommendations to government bodies, but did not have the authority to make decisions nor was there an effective leader to champion the urgent need to act. Conversely, the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team had the authority to make decisions and act on them. Indeed, thanks to the Recovery Team’s broad representation, any failure to act would likely have resulted in public outcry – which raises the issue of accountability.
Management of endangered species requires tough decisions, yet they are decisions we must make. If we monitor declining populations without a process for deciding between different management options, we will only document extinctions. In some cases, the logical decision may be to employ a triage system where priority is given to species with a high likelihood of recovery. Assigning institutional accountability around the management of endangered species could help to ensure that tough decisions are made and that the processes involved are transparent.
Finally, the cases of the bat and the parrot also highlight the need to act quickly when a species is found to be on the brink of extinction. Delaying decisions only narrows our choices and removes opportunities to act. We may not always have all the answers, but this cannot be used as a reason to delay decision making. Based on a triage system a decision to not to act might be the best way forward, but if we delay the decision it becomes the only way forward.
Better decisions with science
It is all well and good to say that we need leaders to be accountable and make timely decisions; but in a world where insufficient conservation resources exist to manage all endangered species, how do we ensure that the decisions we make are the right ones?
This is where science can help.
Scientific analysis can be used to determine how much information we need to inform a good conservation decision. In the case of the Christmas Island pipistrelle, the decision to start a captive breeding program came many years too late. By evaluating the costs, benefits, and feasibility of taking different management actions in the light of what we know about a species’ decline (or don’t know - i.e. the degree of uncertainty), it is possible to get the timing right.
Research into the methods used to stem species decline is also underway. For example, captive breeding and reintroduction programs are generally regarded as having good success rates. Further investigation into genetic management, habitat restoration, and effective techniques for reintroduction and risk management will help ensure the success of these programs for a variety of species.
Stemming the global loss of biodiversity through recovery planning will require brave decision-making in the face of uncertainty. Monitoring must be linked to decisions, institutions must be accountable for these decisions and decisions to act must be made before critical opportunities, and species, are lost forever.
Particular thanks go to Mark Holdsworth, Stephen Harris, Fiona Henderson, Mark Lonsdale, and my co-authors on the original paper on which this article is based.