Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wildlife Bytes 23/3/11

Leading Stories

Up to 45 native species in Western Australia's Kimberley region will die out within 20 years if no action is taken, a CSIRO-led study says. It's called for an immediate cash injection of $95 million to save creatures like the Golden Bandicoot, the Scaly-Tailed Possum and the Monjon Rock Wallaby from extinction. The study, released today, was commissioned by the Wilderness Society, which has gone on to urge all tiers of government to open their wallets. At the moment, just $20 million a year is spent on conservation efforts in the Kimberley, which is home to an assortment of threatened species. But the report said even if that money was spent properly, the region would still lose some 31 native animals. The numbers of many more birds, reptiles and mammals, such as the Spotted Tree Monitor and the Western Chestnut Mouse, would dwindle.

The report said containing feral cats was the best cost-effective measure to prevent species decline, which would be a three-pronged attack, including education, research and an end to dingo baiting. But it conceded the "feasibility of success" was low. Next best would be to effectively manage the threats of fire and foreign herbivores, which would see improvements for almost all wildlife species. "This report is like a business plan for nature," one of the report's six co-authors Hugh Possingham said. "Our analysis shows the best bang for the buck and identifies not just the best things to do but what we can't afford not to do." About $40 million would be needed annually in the Kimberley to protect its species, as well as boost plant life, help the climate and conserve indigenous land. "This investment is great value," Prof Possingham said. "We can save some of Australia's most iconic mammals and birds at a cost of only about $1 million per species per year." The Priority Threat Management to Protect Kimberley Wildlife report relied heavily on expert feedback because of a lack of available data on certain species and costs. It recommended getting other social, economic and cultural perspectives to round out a more comprehensive action plan. *AAP

Forestry Talks Meltdown

Tasmania's forest peace talks look ever shakier after one of the state's fieriest environment groups abandoned the process yesterday. Several groups have vowed to keep protesting despite State Government and industry pleas to stop for the sake of the negotiations. Yesterday, the Huon Valley Environment Centre said it was quitting the talks because a moratorium on logging in high conservation-value forests scheduled for March 15 had not been imposed. While not a signatory to the Statement of Principles accepted by environment and industry groups last October, the centre is one of the state's most active protest groups. Spokeswoman Jenny Weber said the group had lost confidence that the forest industry and the Government would deliver on an agreement. "There has been a failure to deliver a key first step, that is the failure to deliver a full and true moratorium on high conservation-value forests," Ms Weber said.

She said the group would not stop protesting. "We are committed to seeing protection of Tasmania's forests and we will continue our dedicated campaign," she said. Miranda Gibson from Still Wild Still Threatened said her organisation was also considering its position. "We share similar concerns. We are in negotiations with our members to work out how we want to proceed," she said. Ms Gibson rejected calls for protests to stop, saying the Government had acted "in bad faith" by not imposing a moratorium from March 15. "As long as high conservation value forests are falling, the Tasmanian community will continue to stand up for them." Wilderness Society spokesman Vica Bayley said while his organisation shared the disappointment over the lack of a moratorium, it would not abandon negotiations. "A new moratorium process is being negotiated. We have some concerns around the timeline but at this point we remain committed," he said.

Mr Bayley said the Huon Valley Environment Centre's decision did not signal a split in the forest movement. Resources Minister Bryan Green said the centre was known for "disruptive protests" and the group's move was undermining the peace process. "For any talks to succeed, it's vital to focus on the moderate groups, who represent the majority of Tasmanian stakeholders," Mr Green said. Opposition forestry spokesman Peter Gutwein said the move was evidence that the "disastrous" agreement to overhaul the state's forest industry should be abandoned. * Mercury


An ostrich stolen from a farm in Romania showed the homing skills of a pigeon by escaping and running all the way home at 40mph. The big flightless birds, native to Africa, are famous for their ability to run at high speeds but are not so well known for their sense of direction. But one lucky ostrich in Romania managed to navigate all the way back home after being stolen by ostrich rustlers, reports Metro. Making a run for it, the big bird from a farm in Pitesti escaped her captors and dashed back to safety. Owner Florin Diaconescu, 47, was very relieved to see her return back to the farm and was amazed at how she had managed to return by herself. "I had given her up as gone forever," he explained. "But I saw this cloud of dust heading towards the farm and she came running into the yard as fast as her legs would carry her." *Orange.uk

Feral Fish

A task force will be formed to help deal with a fish species which is threatening the River Murray. The oriental weatherloach was introduced to Australia in the 1980s as an aquarium fish and later used as live bait. Higher Murray flows in recent months have washed the fish into South Australia from upstream. Lara Suitor from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources says the fish was detected recently on the Chowilla floodplain near Renmark. "They might not necessarily establish themselves very quickly, they sort of have to become adapted to the different environments, but yeah obviously it is a concern that we are finding them in reasonable numbers and yeah they could breed up and be a similar problem as the european carp are now," she said. "It's a pretty hardy fish [and can] go across land for short periods of time. "Females lay up to, you know, thousands of eggs which makes it a pretty tough competitor for our native fish." *ABC


Some Australians find the idea of eating a national icon a bit hard to stomach. But a growing number of Queenslanders are developing a taste for emu - one of the healthiest meats on the menu. Sarah and Stephen Schmidt own the state's only commercial emu farm at Marburg, west of Ipswich. The couple have about 1500 birds and recently started selling emu kebabs, sausages and steaks from their farmgate and their Redcliffe shop to the public as well as restaurants. A local pie shop has also bought their emu meat to start its own range of pies. "There's been a bit of a stigma about eating an animal that appears on our coat of arms," said Mrs Schmidt. "But we believe that with the interest in health, it's a growing industry." On the menu at Tukka restaurant in West End, chef/owner Bryant Wells said the emu dish was a best-seller, particularly with tourists. "People are usually surprised to discover how rich and tender it is," said Mr Wells, who also cures emu meat. "It's like venison compared to veal and everyone seems to really enjoy it. Emu is just not very mainstream at the moment, but I think once people try it and realise how great it is and how easy to cook, they'll buy it more and the price would come down like it did with kangaroo." *Courier Mail

Coal Mining

The Federal Government has given the go-ahead to what could be the biggest coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere. Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has imposed strict conditions on Xstrata Coal's proposed mine at Wandoan on Queensland's Western Darling Downs. The mine would produce 30-million tonnes a year but has the potential to expand to 100-million tonnes a year, making it the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The company says it will make a final investment decision later this year. Work on the project was suspended last year because of concerns about the Federal Government's proposed mining tax, but Xstrata spokesman James Rickards says it is now back on track. "We remain committed to the Wandoan project," he said. Environment group Friends of the Earth has launched legal action to stop the mine, while some landholders are still concerned about the environmental impacts of the project. *ABC


Sandmining on North Stradbroke Island will end two years earlier than planned, infuriating miners and upsetting local environmentalists as well. Last year, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced that all mining would end in 2027 but yesterday she told parliament it would now wind up in 2025. Ms Bligh announced a fast-tracked timetable for the closure of the island's largest mine, Enterprise, which accounts for 60 per cent of production. The mine's owner, Sibelco, had agreed to close by 2027 but will now be forced to shut by 2019. "That means that by 2021, after a two-year decommissioning and rehabilitation period, 75 per cent of the island will be declared national park," Ms Bligh told parliament. The island's two other mines, Yarraman and Vance, would close in 2015 and 2025 respectively as originally planned. "All mining will cease on North Stradbroke Island by 2025," Ms Bligh said. Nikki Parker from anti-sand-mining group Save Straddie Campaign said the end date was not important. "The miners will do just as much damage in a shorter time," Ms Parker said in a statement. "This announcement does not stop sandmining. All this will do is accelerate destructive sandmining on Straddie, further threatening the island's ecosystems, fragile water bodies and the island's economic future." *Courier Mail

CSG Mining

The Wilderness Society says the rapid spread of coal seam gas (CSG) exploration into the Lake Eyre Basin in Queensland poses a threat to one of Australia's natural wonders. The Society says it is alarmed there is more coal seam gas exploration projects in grazing areas of western Queensland. Spokesman Glenn Walker says while the Stat Government has refused to place a moratorium on development in southern Queensland, the fragile and unique environment of the Lake Eyre Basin means the region should be protected. "Because of its unique and large natural values, this area needs special consideration," he said. Mr Walker says the fragile environment of the Lake Eyre Basin should prompt governments to act. "Obviously the Government has shown that they recognise the value of the Lake Eyre Basin by moving ahead with Wild Rivers declarations," he said. "They recognise through an inter-governmental agreement about the Lake Eyre region that it is a very special place, so there is a strong argument because of its unique and large natural values, this areas needs special consideration." *ABC

Wallabys Shot

Wildlife officers are investigating the slaughter of 13 wallabies in a national park south-east of Darwin. The animals were shot and dumped in the Djukbinj National Park at the weekend. Some of them had legs missing. "The rangers come across a pile of wallaby carcasses," wildlife officer Sally Heaton said. "Wallabies are protected wildlife and they're not allowed to be shot anywhere in the Northern Territory and especially not in a national park. She says the people responsible will face hefty fines if caught. "We have contacted traditional owners, who sometimes use the park for traditional hunting and they're unaware of any hunting that's gone on recently. "Only three of [the wallabies] had legs missing, the rest of them were left intact. "So it's just a blatant waste of wildlife really." *ABC

NMIT Kangaroos

Whittlesea Senior-sergeant Tony Higgins has confirmed the gunshots reported by a concerned Eden Park resident last night were part of the Northern Metropolitan Institute of TAFE (NMIT) kangaroo cull.
Seven days ago, Victoria Police spokeswoman Natalie Webster said the cull had not begun. The Department of Sustainability and Environment late last year approved NMIT’s application to kill 300 kangaroos until October. Sen-Sgt Higgins refused to say whether NMIT had notified police at least 24-hours before the shooting began, as required by the Department of Sustainability and Environment-approved permit. “That is a matter between police and the permit holder,’’ he said. “There was a report of shots fired. It was part of the cull.’‘ Sen-Sgt Higgins said he was not sure if police attended the call. Tenth Ave residents Trish Wileman and Keith Mason heard shooting from about 5pm until 8.30pm last night. Ms Wileman, who said she had not received notification about the NMIT kangaroo cull, said the shots sounded very close to her home and phoned Mill Park police station about 6pm in fear.

“I rang for information and to see if we should be alarmed about this,’’ she said. “I think as residents we should be advised, and I don’t think it’s acceptable for them to be shooting willy-nilly at all times of the day. “We don’t have any information about this; it could be a larrikin out there having fun, or in this day and age it could be a madman on the loose.’‘ Ms Wileman said that despite being told police would attend last night, she never saw a police car or any officers. “It hasn’t left us with much faith in the police,’’ she said. “I know it wasn’t a murder or anything but you’d think they’d look into any kind of gun shots.’‘ Mr Mason said he saw a white four-wheel drive utility with a man in an orange fluoro safety vest on the back, about 150m from his Tenth Ave home. “I had the binoculars out but I couldn’t see the number plate, but it did look like an NMIT car,’’ Mr Mason said. “It was intermittent; we thought they’d finished and then they’d start up again.

“The kangaroos were going from one side of the hill to the other. They were very agitated; they didn’t know whether to come through the fence. They were flying all over. “There was about 40 of them last night. “There are a lot of kangaroos out around 4.30(pm). “They (the shooters) don’t have to use a spot light then either. “I couldn’t distinguish if it was a shotgun or a rifle.’‘ On February 17, Mr Mason saw two men on motorbikes who appeared to be herding kangaroos in the same area, in front of a large hill. Last Saturday, just after midnight, Mr Mason and his wife were woken by loud gun shots, very close to his home, he said. “I don’t know who it was; with all the publicity people might just be coming out to have a shot,’’ he said. “Once we turned the lights on, they stopped shooting and we didn’t see anything. “I’m not comfortable with it. I don’t like that gun fire, it sounds like it’s too close. “And it must be relatively close because they stopped shooting when they saw our lights come on.’’ Whittlesea Leader

Whittlesea Council will seek the support of all five local MPs to stop the slaughter of 300 kangaroos at NMIT Eden Park. Chief executive David Turnbull told the council’s March 15 meeting that it sent letters, dated March 1, to state Environment Minister Ryan Smith and NMIT asking that they suspend the cull permit. But the meeting heard neither letter had been responded to. Opposition environment spokeswoman Lisa Neville called on Mr Ryan to discuss the issue. “The minister should at the very least tell the community as to why this particular cull was approved in the first place and listen to all views being expressed,” Ms Neville said. “The community needs to be consulted about any fu- ture culls.” West Ward councillor Frank Merlino, who initiated the council’s stance, said he was disappointed by the silence. His second notice of motion on the issue, to seek help from local MPs for an immediate moratorium on the cull, was passed unanimously last Tuesday. “It’s most disappointing that NMIT has failed to reply to this considering it is a public institute and it’s got to be transparent and accountable and to answer reasonable questions,” he said. “We will continue to advocate on behalf of residents and get some answers.” East Ward councillor Sam Alessi said the Department of Sustainability and Environment had failed the community with its lack of communication. The council will also seek details from Nillumbik Council on its protocol with the DSE in a similar roo cull five years ago. *Leader

RSPCA Victoria president Hugh Wirth says the animal welfare group will investigate all reports of animal cruelty in the Eden Park kangaroo cull. Dr Wirth said the RSPCA had not received any reports, but would take seriously any oral or physical evidence that the Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE had breached the Department of Sustainability and Environment cull permit. He said herding of kangaroos, reported at whittlesealeader .com.au, was in breach of a Victorian kangaroo management plan compiled by the DSE and approved by the RSPCA years ago. Dr Wirth and the RSPCA were unable to provide the document and the DSE did not respond to the Leader’s request for a copy. Online searches by the Leader also failed to unearth a copy, and could only find kangaroo management plans for other Australian states. Dr Wirth is adamant the plan exists, saying he was on the consultation committee that approved it. He said residents reports of two men herding kangaroos in Eden Park on the back of trail bikes was a breach of the state management plan. “That’s (herding) strictly outside the document, and if it is brought to our attention, it will be investigated,” Dr Wirth said. “You can not humanely herd kangaroos because they don’t behave like domestic animals. “They go all over the place, they get hung up on fences and go into fences.” He said the RSPCA had not seen or approved the Northern Lodge kangaroo management plan, which was prepared by Ecoplan Australia. To contact the RSPCA, phone 9224 2222. *Whittlesea Leader

Kangaroos Shot

Wildlife Victoria wants the shooter who left a kangaroo with half of its face missing near Myrniong to be prosecuted. Shocked guests at Lake Dewar Lodge, south of Bullengarook, found the maimed female kangaroo, which manager Janet Mason believed was the same injured kangaroo seen five days earlier. The kangaroo, who was unable to eat and drink after suffering for days, was immediately put down. Wildlife Victoria has asked the Department of Sustainability and Environment to determine if a culling permit was issued. If so, it has asked DSE to follow-up with the landowner regarding the professionalism of the shooter and possible prosecution for inhuman practices. If no permit was issued, Wildlife Victoria will report the incident to the police. Illegal shooters can be fined up to $5000 or jailed for six months.

Wildlife Victoria rescuer Manfred Zabinskas said the injured kangaroo was in great pain. “The nature of the wound was consistent with a gunshot wound from a high-powered rifle,” he said. “It is time that we really put a stop to this abhorrent treatment of our wildlife.” In the past 18 months, Mr Zabinskas says he has responded to 11 incidents of mangled or dead kangaroos involving a “distasteful human element.” Incidents included: * Three kangaroos with portions of their faces blown off, having to be put down. * Three calls where kangaroo body parts were dumped, one near a Myrniong school bus stop.
* Two calls involving a kangaroo and a wallaby with arrows in their necks. * A number of calls reporting motorists chasing animals in their cars and beating them to death. Ms Mason said two schoolgirls were left distressed after finding the injured kangaroo. * Illegal shootings of kangaroos can be reported to DSE on 136 186. Injured wildlife can be reported 24-hours to Wildlife Victoria on 0500 540 000. *Macedon Leader

A bit of Windowdressing for the Kangaroo Industry

Thanks to a shot in the arm of $400,000 from Tony Burke via the RIRDC, the Kangaroo Harvester Skill Enhancement training program initiated by KIAA will soon be rolled out nationally in a highly refined program. A consortium of Regency, South Queensland and
Oten institutes of technology have been awarded the tender to produce and deliver training material to all registered Harvesters this year. The consortium is finalizing the training material which expands on that produced by KIAA under a smaller RIRDC project last year. Safefoods Qld are kindly and efficiently administering the expanded project, which is on course to deliver up to 68 half day training sessions across Qld, NSW and SA before Oct this year. All Harvesters accredited in 2009 or 2010 in those states will be able to attend the training free of charge. Each state meat hygiene authority will make course attendance a requirement for re-accreditation in 2011. Pet meat only Harvesters in NSW will not be required to do the course in order to be reaccredited in 2011.

The course will help update Harvesters on the best methods of field dressing to minimise carcass contamination. It will touch on the importance of hygienic practices to the industry, and importantly, their personal income. Also covered are the new tagging requirements, and of course, the importance of animal welfare issues. Each Harvester will receive a manual of field harvesting kangaroos, a field dressing DVD and certificate of attendance. This course is an important part of on-going industry improvements in product standards to ensure kangaroo meat remains competitive in the global market. The generous support of the RIRDC, Safefoods Qld and the NSW and SA governments in delivering this is much appreciated by industry. Participants may register to attend workshops via the Southern Queensland Institute of TAFE’s website http://www.sqit.tafe.qld.gov.au

440,000 Joeys Campaign

Kangaroo ban hits its first hurdle in EU but starts new phase from very strong position! In what can only be described as a astonishing development, the Australian Wildlife Protection Council had to admit that the fight to have kangaroo meat and products banned in the EU today hit its first obstacle when at a meeting of the Petitions Committee, a vote of four MEPs gave the thumbs down to progress the petition further. Philip Woolley, AWPC - EU Campaign Director said: "This vote was not unexpected as we are aware that the Australian Government had been strongly lobbying various MEPs on the Petition Committee behind closed doors since last October when amongst others, Matt Koval (Minister-Counsellor (Agriculture) in Brussels) visited MEP Giles Chichester to discuss the petition. Chichester has admitted that at first he didn't know if he had anything to contribute to the meeting but also said that he would look favourably now on the industry point of view. When John Kelly of the KIAA said last year he was not at all worried about what our petition could achieve, his and others' actions in lobbying MEPs clearly shows that he was very worried indeed that his industry could be shut down by any EU action. If I were one of his members I too would be worried."

After the meeting with the Petitions Committee, Woolley added: " This is just phase one in our campaign and whilst the result is a little disappointing we have more avenues available to us now and we know exactly where the kangaroo industry's weaknesses lie. We start phase two with over 19,000 people supporting us which is a very strong position to be in and we are getting together a very strong legal team. Remember the seal ban took nine years to come in and for us to be here so quickly, is very encouraging." Virginia McKenna OBE, a supporter of the campaign for the ban in Europe said: "I am very pleased to add my name to the growing numbers of supporters for this very valuable and worthwhile campaign. My late husband Bill Travers and I established Zoo Check, which became the Born Free Foundation, in order to protect wildlife and promote animal welfare. When I found out that kangaroos are being slaughtered in their millions every year just to give people a "thrill", I knew I had to support the Australian Wildlife Protection Council's campaign in Europe to have kangaroo meat and products banned. A ban in Europe will make a massive difference and will help to stop these killings and save baby kangaroos from barbaric deaths. I strongly urge others to support the campaign." Media release

Cane Toads

The march of cane toads across Australia is helping to rewrite the textbooks on evolution, say biologists. Some of the toxic invaders are evolving longer legs as they spread across the country - but not by natural selection, the usual process by which species change and adapt. Instead, Australian biologists have identified a rival mechanism of evolution that has nothing to do with survival of the fittest. The alternative theory helps to explain why toads at the forefront of the invasion tend to have longer legs than those lagging further behind. Toads at the invasion front are faster than average, because they have covered the most ground to get there. The resulting "spatially sorted" population means that fast toads tend to breed with other fast toads, simply because they are nearby. This promotes the evolution of ever-faster toads without having to invoke survival of the fittest, explained University of Sydney biologist Rick Shine.

Normally, species evolve because individuals that are better adapted for the conditions tend to reproduce more successfully, passing more of their genes down to future generations. But in the case of the cane toads, there is no penalty for not having long legs, so survival of the fittest does not occur. Instead, longer-legged toads just happen to be found together more frequently, so long-legged genes are favoured among toads at the front line of the invasion, Professor Shine explained. This process of "spatial sorting" has been overlooked by many evolutionary theorists, Professor Shine and his colleagues reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The process could apply to any invasive pest, such as fire ants or agricultural weed species, he said. "It fits the whole frontier ethos," he said. *WA Now