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.
As representatives of Australia’s peak professional ecological body, the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA), we are deeply concerned that the strategy is not fit for its purpose of protecting Australia’s biodiversity.
A bolder, science-based vision
As part of ESA’s formal submission to the public consultation, we provide an alternative, evidence-based vision. This includes nine key recommendations for nature conservation in Australia.
1. Set measurable targets. Any project needs a set of quantifiable targets, otherwise we won’t know whether it has been successful or not. Some suggestions:
establish a comprehensive national network of ecosystem monitoring sites by 2025
reverse the declines of all species that are threatened by human-caused factors by 2025.
2. Commit to preventing human-caused species extinctions. The strategy should state explicitly that human-driven species extinctions are not acceptable, and establish and maintain clear paths of accountability.
3. Adequately fund the strategy’s implementation. Australia should show international leadership in conservation by investing at the upper end of OECD and G20 averages. At present Australia allocates less than 0.8% of GDP to conservation. We suggest 2% as an urgent minimum investment, with scope to expand funding to ensure that targets can be met.
4. Focus on the intrinsic value of biodiversity. The draft strategy is supposed to represent “Australia’s biodiversity conservation strategy and action inventory”, but it does not define biodiversity, choosing instead to focus on the vague notion of “nature”. We recommend the document return its focus to biodiversity, defined in the Convention on Biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”.
requiring threat-abatement plans to efficiently manage major threats to many species, such as impacts of feral predators and herbivores, invasive plants and new diseases
specifically protecting high-value ecosystems, including those of economic value such as the Great Barrier Reef, and those that are critical for species survival, and rare ecosystems.
6. Commit to establishing a comprehensive system of protected areas, including marine parks. Despite longstanding commitments to developing a fully representative network of protected areas in Australia, many bioregions remain poorly represented in the National Reserve System and the national marine protected area system.
9. Recognise key issues that affect Australian biodiversity conservation. Any successful strategy should specifically address new and emerging issues that can harm our environment, such as Australia’s increasing use of natural resources, environmental water flows in rivers, and overfishing.
We cannot ignore human population growth, increasing per capita consumption and subsequent resource demand as drivers of threats to healthy and resilient ecosystems.
Our unique plants, animals and other organisms shape our national identity. They have wide-ranging benefits to our society, as well as being inherently valuable in their own right. They need a much stronger commitment to their ongoing protection.
Should your next holiday include a safari, whale watching, or a trip to a tiger temple? Ecotourism has recently been in the spotlight. For instance, we’ve seen claims that tourism helps conserve tigers and that it has been linked to wildlife trafficking.
“Ecotourism” is a very broad term. It may include visitors to public national parks, volunteers for community projects, or adventurous expeditions to remote regions. Some may even include hunting safaris.
Attitudes of local communities towards native wildlife, for example, influence whether they support or oppose poaching. Furthermore, income from ecotourism may be used for conservation and local community development projects, but not always.
We also need some way to measure ecotourism effects on wildlife? Many ecotourism measures are social or economic rather than ecological. It’s often difficult to compare positive and negative impacts on a species. Therefore, quantifying the net effect of ecotourism is challenging.
For species at risk of extinction, such as those in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List, it is critical to be able to assess how various threats, including tourism, affect their survival. So we wanted to develop a way of measuring how ecotourism affects the risk of extinction for these species.
Previously when considering ecotourism researchers looked at revenue to parks, and how much of a species’ global population was protected by these parks.
This approach showed that tourism funding is significant for many IUCN Redlisted mammals, birds and amphibians. But it doesn’t tell us whether ecotourism will help or harm a specific species or population.
Our new approach uses population analysis (specifically population viability analysis). This sort of analysis is the gold standard for predicting future population trends, and probable time to extinction, for threatened species.
We looked at how populations changed over time in response to threatening processes, by simulating births and deaths one generation at a time. We do this thousands of times to estimate extinction risk. These methods are well-tested and widely-used in practical wildlife management.
To do this we need to know a couple of things about the species we are looking at: habitat area; population size and age. We also need to know the birth and death rates for different ages as well as migration patterns. This information exists only for some threatened species such as those used in our study.
We also need to be able to convert ecotourism effects into these measures of species performance. By looking at how ecotourism affects these aspects we can compare ecotourism to other threats such as poaching, logging, or fishing.
Winners and losers
For seven of the species that we looked at, ecotourism provides net conservation gains. This is achieved through establishing private conservation reserves, restoring habitat or by reducing habitat damage. Removing feral predators, increasing anti-poaching patrols, captive breeding and supplementary feeding also helps.
But for orang utans in Sumatra, small-scale ecotourism cannot overcome the negative impacts of logging. However, larger-scale ecotourism yields a net positive outcome by enabling habitat protection and reintroduction of individuals from captive situations.
Unfortunately for New Zealand’s sea lions, ecotourism only compounds the impacts of intensive fisheries, because it increases the number of sea lion pups dying as a result of direct disturbance at haul out sites.
Our research highlights three key messages. The first is that to predict how ecotourism affects wildlife, we need to know basic things about them: ecotourism needs biologists as well as social scientists.
The second is that the effects of ecotourism are not universal: whether ecotourism is good or bad depends on the species and local circumstances.
The third, and perhaps most important, is that ecotourism, at appropriate levels, can indeed help to save threatened species from extinction.
Saskia Adysti || Albany Advertiser Thursday, 15 March 2018 2:26PM
Carnabys Black-Cockatoo Georgina Steytler
A Birdlife Australia convener says Albany is the perfect candidate for birds ecotourism — a multibillion-dollar industry that can provide scores of jobs for the community.
Albany’s Anne Bondin has spent the past 18 years volunteering with Birdlife Australia.
She said she understood the drive behind birds eco-tourism and had witnessed the industry bloom over the years.
“It’s a multibillion-dollar industry and one of the fastest-growing activities in America and Europe,” she said.
“Albany is already a hotspot for birds tourism — it’s a shame there is no official tourist guide that can provide birds eco-tourism services.”
Ms Bondin said many international tourists visited Albany to spot the noisy scrub bird, a rare bird that can only be found on the east side of Albany.
“This bird cannot be found anywhere else in the world other than Albany — and at one point it was almost extinct. Prince Philip helped to conserve the bird’s population,” she said.
The noisy scrub bird has a long history in Albany because many scientists thought it was extinct.
Ms Bondin said most of the international tourists that she came across had little interest in visiting the Anzac attractions in Albany, instead they admired Albany for its scenery and unique flora and fauna.
As a means to introduce the locals to the wonder of Albany’s native birds, Ms Bondin helped to organise the South Coast Festival of Birds in Albany this weekend.
Indian yellow-nosed albatrosses are regularly sighted in Albany. Picture: Georgina Steytler Georgina Steytler
Together with Basil Schur from Greenskill and Brad Kneebone from Birdlife Australia, she will also host a bird eco-tourism talk to provide better knowledge on the industry.
“I find it important that people know about our birdlife — because it’s part of our natural environment and some people get great joy looking at birds,” she said.
“People will travel to Queensland or Broome to look at birds — Albany has a lot more to offer but it’s not highly promoted.”
The talk will be held at the new Beryl Grant Community Centre in Lockyer on Monday, March 19, at 5.30pm.
You can find Cosy Corner which overlooks Migo Island and Hartmans Beach on Cosy Corner Road which runs off the Lower Denmark Road. Cosy Corner is mid way between Albany and Denmark and has some beautiful beaches. Hartmans beach is a very quiet and secluded beach. Cosy Corner Beach is located along the Bibbulmun Track, so why not experience a short walk along one of the world's long distance walking tracks that runs between Perth and Albany.
Enjoy a coffee and freshly baked cake from the award winning Cosy Corner Store.
Looking for some exercise while you are here? The Sand Patch is well known for the 506 stairs you need to climb at the end of the day. When you are really tired [climbing the stairs] and start to lower your gaze, you can still see under the staircase traces of the old trail anglers used to climb
By Bluenovaxx (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) is a large waterbird of the family Pelecanidae, widespread on the inland and coastal waters of Australia. It is a predominantly white bird with black wings and a pink bill. It has been recorded as having the longest bill of any living bird. It mainly eats fish, but will also consume birds and scavenges for scraps if the opportunity arrises.
The Australian pelican was first described by Dutch naturalist Coenraad Jacob Temminck in 1824. Its specific epithet is derived from the Latin verb conspicere, meaning 'to behold', and refers to the 'spectacled' appearance created by its conspicuous eye markings. Australian pelicans feed by plunge-diving while swimming on the surface of the water. They work in groups to drive fish to shallower water, where they stick their sensitive bills in to snatch their prey. Some feeding grounds in large bodies of water have included up to 1,900 individual birds. They will sometimes also forage solitarily. Their predominant prey is fish and they commonly feed on introduced species such as goldfish, European carp and European perch. When possible, they also eat native fish, with a seeming preference for the perch Leiopotherapon unicolor. However, the Australian pelican seems to be less of a piscivore and more catholic in taste than other pelicans. It regularly feeds on insects and many aquatic crustaceans, especially the common yabby and the shrimps in the Macrobrachium genus. This pelican also takes other birds with some frequency, such as silver gulls, Australian white ibisand grey teal, including eggs, nestlings, fledglings and adults, which they may kill by pinning them underwater and drowning them.
The Australian pelican begins breeding at two or three years of age. The breeding season varies, occurring in winter in tropical areas (north of 26°S) and spring in parts of southern Australia. Breeding may occur any time after rainfall in inland areas. The nest is a shallow depression in earth or sand, sometimes with some grass lining.
Breeding Australian pelicans will lay one to four (typically two) chalky-white eggs measuring 93 mm × 57 mm (3.7 in × 2.2 in), which often appear scratched and dirty. The eggs are incubated for 32 to 35 days. The chicks are naked when they hatch, though quickly grow grey down feathers. After they hatch, the larger one will be fed more, and the smaller one will eventually die of starvation or siblicide. For the first two weeks the chicks will be fed regurgitated liquid, but for the remaining two months they will be fed fish and some invertebrates. Feeding pods are formed within colonies when the chicks are around 25 days. The young pelicans fledge at around three months of age.
At Emu Point you can see them waiting for scraps as the fishermen come in with thier catch and fillet the fish in the special station for them.
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. It's a great location for a beach walk or hike out onto the peninsula
The beach is close to Torndirrup National Park, The Gap, Natural Rock Bridge and Whale World, and is perfect for families, weddings and those not able to walk very far.