Monday, April 4, 2011

Wildlife Bytes 5/5/11

Leading Stories

Illegal shooting in WA's South-West is pushing an endangered cockatoo species to the brink of extinction, a leading wildlife conservation group warns. WWF-Australia says about 200 endangered Baudin’s black cockatoos are illegally shot each year to protect fruit crops and unless urgent steps are taken to stop the carnage, the birds could be extinct within decades. WWF is urging responsible growers, fruit pickers, local communities and birdwatchers to report illegal shooting of black cockatoos. It is also calling on the WA Government to introduce a netting assistance scheme to help farmers protect their crops from bird damage, similar to one recently introduced in New South Wales. “If NSW can protect its local horticulture and threatened species, then so can WA,” WWF-Australia South-West Policy Manager Katherine Howard said. “Fruit-growing is a valuable industry in South-West WA, but a native species found nowhere else in the world is priceless. Surely it’s time the WA Government worked with growers and conservationists to find a solution to this ever-increasing problem.”

Baudin’s cockatoos, which are found only in the South-West, have already disappeared from about 25 per cent of their former range since European settlement and were now listed as endangered, Ms Howard said. The birds are a close relative of the highly endangered Carnaby’s black cockatoo and face similar threats to their survival, including habit loss due to land-clearing, competition for nesting hollows from invasive bees, corellas and galahs, and illegal poaching. “By far the biggest and most urgent threat to Baudin’s cockatoos is illegal shooting,” Ms Howard said. She said Baudin’s cockatoos had lost considerable feeding and breeding habitat to agriculture, urban development, forestry and mining. As their native food sources decline, the cockatoos had learned to feed on ripening apples, pears and other fruit, causing significant damage to South-West crops. Shooting black cockatoos carries a maximum fine of $10,000 but the most a court has imposed is $3,000. "These penalties are totally inadequate and the outdated Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 is long overdue for an overhaul," Ms Howard said. "However, this in itself would not eliminate the problem of cockatoos damaging crops. "The most useful thing the WA Government can do is establish a netting assistance scheme to protect both our iconic threatened species and local horticulture in Southwest WA." *PerthNow

Wildlife Tourism

Giant Australian cuttlefish "live fast and die young" so there are no second chances with conservation. Scientists fear industrial activity at Point Lowly near Whyalla, including major projects such as the proposed desalination plant for Olympic Dam, will disrupt breeding at the only giant cuttlefish spawning site in the world. It should be a major tourist attraction, University of Adelaide marine biologist Professor Bronwyn Gillanders says. Instead it's a "well-kept secret". "There's scope for massive ecotourism," she said. "When cuttlefish are breeding, they're totally oblivious to you even being there. You can watch waves of colour going through their bodies." Large 5kg males put on a spectacular show and dance, while cross-dressing lightweights try to steal their lovers. Then at the end of the breeding season, when the eggs are fertilised and safely stowed away under rock ledges, the adult cuttlefish become food for dolphins. Professor Gillanders says the "live fast and die young life history strategy" makes the species particularly vulnerable to threats from industrial development. Tony Bramley of Whyalla Diving Services was shocked to find only part of the breeding site in the State Government's map of possible marine park sanctuary zones. "On word of mouth we get thousands of visitors here every year, thousands who come to see the cuttlefish and many of them are from overseas," he said. "Nobody who comes to see this aggregation is disappointed. That's why it's so hard to understand why the government isn't more willing to put any protection in place." *AdelaideNow


The Queensland Government has decided to mount another aerial shooting campaign on the horses on Canaarvon National Park. While this has been applauded by at least one Queensland wildlife group, the shooting raises other serious animal welfare and environmental problems. WPAA doesnt support aerial shooting of animals for one minute. While its true the horses do raise environmental problems with erosion and browsing on native plants, the end result of aerial shooting raises even further problems. One is the attraction of predators to the thousands of dead carcases. Wild dogs breed up, and when the carcases are gone, they move down to farms, where farmers then demand 1080 programs to get rid of them. There are other problems as well, such as dead horses contaminating creeks, blowfly escalation, etc. Aerial shooting of pest animals is a temporary bandaid, nothing more, nothing less, in an attempt to convince the public that the Government is doing something about the problem. There are better options, but they cost more.
Meanwhile this week I attended a meeting in Hervey Bay between the Save the Fraser Island Dingoes group, and the Dept of Environment and Resources. The meeting was positive, with many questions about FI dingo mangement being asked. Clearly there are issues that still need to be addressed, but the meeting was hopefully the start of some form of constructive communication between local groups and the Government, the first positive communication we have had in 20 years of trying to talk to them about the dingoes. *

NSW Environment Dept Axed

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's decision to carve up the environment portfolio is being portrayed as a sop to the Shooters and Fishers Party by the state opposition and Greens. In his first cabinet, announced yesterday, Mr O'Farrell has dropped his former climate change spokeswoman Catherine Cusack in favour of Hunter MP Robyn Parker. In the shake-up of the environment portfolio, he has also announced the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water will be scrapped, and its functions redirected to the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The Herald has reported that responsibility for marine parks management and decisions about land clearing will be transferred to the Department of Primary Industries. Read More.....

Marine Wildlife and Climate Change

Marine wildlife is coping with our warming world in many different ways – and the inhabitants of Australia's shallow seas have shown the two most obvious responses. Some species have shifted southwards, apparently to escape waters that have warmed by 1.5 °C since the 1950s – but others have moved northwards, seemingly embracing the warmer conditions. To find out what has been happening along the country's east coast, Elvira Poloczanska at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, and colleagues counted all the animals and their species in the intertidal region of 22 rocky shores spanning 1435 kilometres. Then they compared their findings with surveys performed in the 1940s and 50s. One-third of the 30 species they studied had shifted in that time – but "we found very little evidence that species are migrating further south", Poloczanska says. Some species actually appear to have moved towards warmer climes: two species of gastropod – Notoacmea petterdi and Cellana tramoserica – now occupy more northerly waters than they did 60 years ago. *New Scientist

Ethical Internet Hosting

CEO and Founder of Internet hosting company GoDaddy Bob Parsons has posted a video of himself on Utube shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe. A campaign has started to encourage GoDaddy domain holders to shift to a more ethical hosting company, which this editor will certainly be doing. The video shows Scene 1: Bob Parsons explains he’s in Zimbabwe and there is a “problem elephant” that is destroying a farmer’s crops. Scene 2: We see the damaged crops. Scene 3: Cut to later on in the night. It’s dark and Parsons and crew wait for the elephant. Scene 4: The elephant arrives and Parsons (CEO of GoDaddy, remember) takes 4-5 shots and kills it. Scene 5: It’s the next day and the villagers gather around the elephant and take large chunks of meat from it to feed their families.
Read more and watch video

Contaminated Kangaroo Meat

Recently wildlife groups purchased samples of kangaroo meat from 5 different brand of supermarkets in NSW, Victoria and SA. All had high levels of eColi. The last three results from VIC samples have just come in at high alert levels for e Coli which means that 100% of samples tested for e Coli were high alert levels. 100% of the 9 Victorian samples tested for E Coli have HIGH ALERT readings of E Coli = E >1100. Some S.A. samples tested contained the preservative Sulphur Dioxide, and salmonella. Results have since been forwarded to the Supermarkets, but they are still selling the meat. *

Wildlife Poaching

Bikies are moving into the illegal trade of protected spiders and snakes because of the high returns and low penalties if caught. The illegal buying and selling of protected fauna has been identified as the third largest illegal activity worldwide, behind running drugs and guns. Officers of Strike Force Raptor - set up two years ago to target the illegal activities of bikies - said they often found illegal fauna during raids on gang premises. An American corn snake, a Chinese soft-backed turtle, a mexican tarantula, four tree frogs and a chameleon dragon were seized when officers raided a property linked to the Rebels' bikie gang last week. The chameleon dragon is on the worldwide endangered species list. Police also found cannabis leaf and seed, hashish and an unidentified white powder. Two motorcycles were seized, including one reported stolen. A 34-year-old Prospect man has been charged with possessing and supplying a prohibited drug, possessing prohibited fauna, having goods in custody and receiving stolen property. He was granted conditional bail to appear at Blacktown Local Court on April 28. One officer said he had recently arrested a bikie associate on the North Coast with a huge number of illegal reptiles and animals. He also had a large stash of weapons. "[Bikies] also like to have the snakes and spiders for image as much as for profit-making," the officer said. In the past two years, officers from Raptor have arrested more than 1300 bikies for criminal offences. *Daily Telegraph

Tall Trees

Some of the biggest and tallest trees on earth grow in Tasmania. In fact, the tallest known flowering plant in the world is in our southern forests. Called the centurion tree, at 99.6m tall it towers over the surrounding forest and concedes height only to California's legendary coast redwoods. About 100 trees in Tasmania are recognised as giants. How are they identified and are they safe from forest harvesting? Finding giant trees has been a passion for both foresters and enthusiastic amateurs for many years but today laser technology is leading the way to new discoveries. In Tasmania, all giant trees are protected in State Forest, so it's important that they are located and the surrounding area reserved. * Read More..

Nuclear Power

As Japan announced it has started dumping more than 10,000 tonnes of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific, Indonesia announced it will build four nuclear power plants, close to a fault line in Indonesia. The Japanese government insists the water is contaminated with only low levels of radiation and is not harmful to humans. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) started dumping the water yesterday, saying a total of 11,500 tonnes would be released into the Pacific. The company insists the radiation poses no threat to marine life and says it would still be safe to eat seafood caught in the area. *

Climate Change

A Queensland climate change scientist says the world has only another decade to reduce greenhouse gasses to save the Great Barrier Reef. The director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Professor Ove Hoegh Guldberg, is addressing a climate change conference in Cairns in the far north today. Professor Hoegh says coral bleaching events are becoming more frequent because of rising sea temperatures and levels. He says good management and the low population along the Great Barrier Reef have helped it bounce back in the past, but it could be gone in 40 years if carbon emissions are not reduced. "If we actually act today we can save the Great Barrier Reef and reefs around the world," he said. "What it'll take is a very concerted global effort to remove these dangerous gasses from the atmosphere." He says climate modelling shows sea temperatures and ocean acidification will soon rise to levels that cannot sustain coral reefs. "We're really right at the crossroads right now," he said. "If we go another 10 years of pumping two parts per million or more CO2 into the atmosphere, we'll pass a point at which we won't be able to constrain further temperature increases and greenhouse gas concentrations that will allow reefs to persist." *ABC

Green Politics

Tasmania's federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie has used an address to the National Press Club in Canberra to slam the recent performance of the Tasmanian Greens. Mr Wilkie said he was deeply disappointed at how muted the party had become on contentious issues since it entered an alliance with the state Labor minority government last March. Mr Wilkie believes Greens leader Nick McKim showed poor judgment when he and colleague Cassy O'Connor accepted invitations to enter the Labor Cabinet after last year's election. He branded the unusual hybrid arrangement, which left the three other Greens MPs outside any formal coalition, a mistake that had effectively nobbled the Tasmanian Greens party. "I think the Greens have fallen for a trap set by Labor," Mr Wilkie said after his Press Club address. "They have locked themselves in to give the [minority] government the support it needs, but have been neutralised themselves in the process." Mr Wilkie thinks Mr McKim decided to accept the unprecedented power-sharing offer of a Cabinet ministry in an attempt to make the Greens as relevant and as powerful as possible. *Mercury

Stranded Wallabies to be Fed

The Department of Environment and Conservation will begin delivering food to about 200 wallabies stranded due to flooding in the east Kimberley. The DEC believes there are about 150 agile wallabies and 50 northern nailtail wallabies marooned on two small islands near Kununurra due to Lake Argyle's rising water levels. DEC Kimberley Regional Manager Daryl Moncrieff said they would begin dropping off hay for the wallabies within the next 24 hours which will keep them alive until wildlife officers can assess whether the animals can be relocated. "Time and the weather are against us, with our helicopter flyover and visit to the larger island yesterday confirming the death of another 50 animals due to a lack of shelter and extreme heat," Mr Moncrieff said. "If we do determine that a relocation may have a reasonable chance of success rather than stressing the animals too much, we will focus on the weaker animals first to avoid suffering and help maximise wallaby survival." However, Mr Moncrieff said no matter what decision is made there would be further loss of animals due to kangaroos and wallabies being prone to stress-related death. The wallabies have been stranded for about two weeks after flooding in the Lake Argyle catchment. The two islands on which the animals are marooned are about one to two kilometres from the lake's shoreline with one measuring less than 50m wide.*TheWest


A frightened woman was held prisoner in her NSW home for six days by a large deadly red-bellied black snake. Disabled pensioner Meredith Schetrumpf, of Budgewoi, on the Central Coast, claims she phoned numerous organisations for help but without success. "For six days I was a prisoner in my house,"she told the Central Coast Express Advocate newspaper. Ms Schetrumpf, who receives a disability pension, lives alone with her pet dog, Jack, said she looked out her window to see a 2m king red-bellied black snake curled up at the gate on the path outside her front door on March 18. Terrified it might enter her house she phoned police, her local MP and Wyong Council who gave her several numbers to call for help. However, the numbers were either disconnected or didn’t answer. One organisation that did answer the phone was WIRES which said they would only come out if the snake was injured. * Central Coast Express Advocate.

New National Park

The amount of land in South Australia under environmental protection has been doubled to 1.8 million hectares. The latest move, officially declaring a huge part of the Nullarbor to be a Wilderness Protection Area, will see an area almost twice the size of Kangaroo Island protected. Under the Wilderness Protection Act, any area declared has to be protected and the land restored to its condition prior to European settlement to maintain habitat and conserve threatened species. A management plan for the area has to be drawn up in consultation with the local community. The area, declared yesterday by Premier Mike Rann and Environment Minister Paul Caica, will stretch almost 200km from WA across the Great Australian Bight. Mr Rann said this protection for the Nullarbor would help conserve the famous treeless plane, the towering Bunda Cliffs and the Nullarbor's internationally renowned arid environment. He said it would also ensure these areas continued to provide important habitat for species such as the rare Australian sea lion, the southern hairy-nosed wombat, the pale knob-tailed gecko, the vulnerable slender-billed thornbill and more than 390 species of plants. "Many examples of the extensive cave and blowhole systems that provide habitat for a range of animals unique to the areas, as well as being renowned for their outstanding archaeological significance, will also be conserved within the wilderness protection area," Mr Rann said.

Climate Change Data

Data compiled by the Pew Environment Group shows China invested $54.4 billion in low-carbon power generation technology in 2010, making it the biggest investing nation in the sector. China’s added investment pushed it past Germany into the top ranking. Germany invested $41.2 billion during the same year, and the United States followed with $34 billion (representing a more than 50% increase over the previous year). Overall, the low-carbon energy sector (excluding nuclear power) saw investment rise globally by 30% in 2010, to a total of $243 billion. *Ecomedia

Marsupial Mouse at Risk

The SA Environment Department is worried efforts to control a growing number of mice in the Mallee region of South Australia might harm a tiny marsupial mouse. The southern ningaui is a threatened species in other parts of Australia, but fairly common in the Mallee. Department official Rebecca Pudney says the ningaui has harder fur and bigger ears than common mice, but people will need to take a close look. "They are very similar in colour, they're a little bit smaller and first thing that most people tell me they notice is they're a little bit more brittly than the house mouse and they have bigger ears than the house mouse," she said. "Just be aware of your traps mostly, baiting should not cause an issue for the fact that these little 'mice' are carnivorous, so they've been busy eating all the insects and lizards that are sort of around the place. "If you do find some [mice] dead or you catch some in a trap just have a closer look at them and make sure that they are those feral mice." *ABC


Another green group confirmed it has walked away from the forest peace deal talks as facilitator Bill Kelty yesterday delivered an interim report to the Federal Government. Mr Kelty's report details whether he believes a formal agreement between environmentalists and the forest industry is possible. Environment Minister Tony Burke said the Gillard Government would consider Mr Kelty's recommendations in the next few weeks. Green group Still Wild Still Threatened yesterday confirmed it had joined the Huon Valley Environment Centre in withdrawing support for the talks. Still Wild Still Threatened spokeswoman Miranda Gibson said it was unacceptable that industrial scale logging of 5000ha of forest would occur because no promised harvesting moratorium is in place. "We can no longer support a process that has so blatantly failed to meet the agreed deadlines and outcomes for forest protection," Ms Gibson said. *Mercury
Ed Comment; Some pundits believe the whole Tassie forestry "consultation" process was doomed to fail anyway, argueing that the Tasmanian government can't be trusted, and the logging Industry certainly can't be trusted. Read More..

Plant Disease Found

A damaging plant disease has been found in the Lamington National Park in Queensland's Gold Coast hinterland. Biosecurity Queensland (BQ) says park visitors reported the presence of myrtle rust earlier this week. BQ spokesman Dr Jim Thompson says the disease can affect more than 2,000 species of plants, including Australian natives. "Monitoring and surveillance of the area still needs to be done to determine the extent of the infection, whether it is inside the national park and other public access points are currently surveyed," he said. "In this sense we are still trying to look at what the options might be available to try to limit the spread once we have that information." Dr Thompson says myrtle rust is a threat to the nursery, cut flower, bush foods, bee, forestry and other industries. "There's potential to have large tourism impacts both in terms of restricting people's access to certain areas," he said. In terms of people not wanting to go to areas if the damage is significant now, we haven't seen that yet. "We are looking at probably a decade-long fight with things like myrtle rust, so it could be something we learn to live with over a long period of time." He says the disease can kill plants and cause deformation of leaves, defoliation of branches, stunted growth and dieback. "Barrier fencing has been erected so they can actually determine the actual extent of the infection in that point and they will also do some work to remove the infected branches and that sort of thing in that area," he said. "The level of restrictions will depend I guess on how far afield we find it at the site." *ABC

NMIT Kangaroos

State Environment Minister Ryan Smith will not suspend or investigate the Eden Park kangaroo cull despite protests from Whittlesea Council and wildlife activists. Mr Smith has backed the Department of Sustainability and Environment and its decision to issue NMIT with an Authority to Control Wildlife Permit. It took Mr Smith almost a month to state his position in a letter of reply to Whittlesea Council, which asked him to suspend the cull and to investigate whether the permit to shoot 300 kangaroos was justified. “The department’s position remains that there are no other viable options that would reduce the current population without simply displacing the problem to adjoining landowners,” Mr Smith’s letter said. Whittlesea Council acting director of planning and development Griff Davis said Mr Smith did not answer any of the questions asked by the council. “He has basically stated the same lines that we’re getting from DSE,” Mr Davis said. “We haven’t come across this situation before where we’re getting no traction with any of the government departments. “The minister is relatively new to this role and he’s probably taking advice from the department. “I wouldn’t expect a complete U-turn, but I’m very disappointed with his response.”

Mr Davis said Mr Smith suggested the council address the management and habitat of fauna populations through its own strategic planning process. But there were no triggers for the council to implement relevant planning controls regarding wildlife because most cull permits occured in rural areas where there was little or no development, Mr Davis said. Whittlesea Council will now lobby all five local MPs for support in Parliament and will consider using Freedom of Information to help stop the slaughter. Mr Davis said the council might approach the Interface Councils group to form a collective voice against the approval process of Authority to Control Wildlife permits in semi-rural municipalities. Whittlesea Council has not received a reply to its letter to NMIT which requested an end to the cull. UPDATE: Whittlesea Council is expected to ratify its next step of writing back to Mr Smith during a council meeting tomorrow night. The meeting is open to the public and will be held in the Council Chamber, 25 Ferres Blvd, South Morang, from 6.30pm. * Whittlesea Leader

Frozen Zoo

One of the country's most valuable biological resources is lying dormant due to a lack of funding. Known as the frozen zoo, the Animal Gene Resource Centre of Australia, at Monash University's Clayton campus, contains samples of blood, saliva, skin and reproductive tissue from more than 100 rare, threatened and endangered species. The 16-year-old collection - the world's first national animal gene bank - is part of a worldwide database designed to secure the genetic diversity of threatened or endangered species. The frozen zoo also holds genetic material from animals such as sheep and cattle dogs - a valuable agricultural resource should disease decimate stock. However, Australia's ''biobank'' branch has struggled to secure continued funding after advocate and inaugural chairman Alan Trounson left the country to work in the US. This coincided with biotech company Norwood Abbey ending its financial support. A joint venture between Monash and the Zoological Parks Board of NSW, the zoo's last deposit was two years ago. Since then, project director Ian Gunn estimates the outfit has missed out on dozens of samples, as there are no longer staff to process them.

''The demise of the Australian gene bank would be a serious blow to our efforts to preserving our native heritage,'' Dr Gunn said. ''Gene banks are our insurance for the future in preserving the genetic resources of our wildlife.'' Australia has the highest mammalian extinction rate in the world, largely due to introduced species such as foxes, cats and rats, and habitat loss. More than 20 species have been lost since European settlement. Native species that would benefit from the banking of diverse genetic data before their populations dwindle are pure dingoes, the northern hairy-nosed wombat and New Holland hopping mouse, of which there are just three isolated populations remaining in Victoria. Co-founder of the National Dingo Preservation and Recovery Program Ernest Healy said the frozen zoo might provide the best chance for the dingo's long-term survival. 'The preservation of as broad a sample of DNA as possible from the extant population for future conservation efforts is now essential,'' he said. Dr Gunn estimates the frozen zoo, which stores samples in liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees to keep them viable for 100 years, needs about $150,000 a year to operate. The collection is maintained by volunteers - Dr Gunn and Dr Chris Mayberry - and the goodwill of Monash, which covers the running cost of about $20,000 a year. The zoo is part of the 16-member Frozen Ark Project, coordinated from the school of biology at the University of Nottingham in Britain. Participants include London's Natural History Museum and the American Museum of Natural History. *Age

Bat Fungus

Biologists across the nation are facing a similarly grim scenario. Since it was discovered in New York four years ago, the fungus has swept across 17 states as far west as Oklahoma, killing a million bats. A majority of the dead were little brown bats, which have lost an estimated 20% of their population in the northeastern United States over the last four years. The fungus seems to prefer the 25 species of hibernating bats, but each of the 45 species of bats in the United States and Canada may be susceptible to white-nose syndrome. Geomyces destructans was first documented in 2007 in New York's Howe Caverns, commercial attraction visited by thousands of tourists from around the world each year. As the disease began to spread, researchers learned that a similar fungal growth had long been seen on the faces and wings of hibernating bats in Europe. Now scientists are scrambling to figure out whether the fungus was introduced by a bat or a caver from Europe. If it is from Europe, they wonder, has the fungus killed bats there or have they adapted to living with the pathogen? Or did the fungus already live in North America but recently mutate to become the virulent wildlife disease?

"It is unbelievably sad and disheartening, and we can't seem to move fast enough to get ahead of it," said U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist LeAnn White. "We may be looking at phenomenal losses across the country with unknown ecological consequences." Bats have always existed at close to the numbers seen prior to the arrival of white-nose syndrome, feasting on such night-flying insects as mosquitoes, which transmit West Nile virus, and agricultural pests damaging to cotton and corn crops. They also pollinate plants, including the saguaro cactus. "We don't know what will happen if they disappear," said USGS biologist Paul Cryan. A recent study published in Science estimates that the value of pest control provided by bats each year is at least $3.7 billion nationwide. *LA Times
Read more ..,0,5891416.story