Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wildlfie Bytes 25/5/11

Leading Stories


They have been crossing Bass Strait for centuries, but never has a winter migration been more important than this one for the orange-bellied parrot. Soaring on the wings of a jet aircraft rather than using their own, 10 of these critically endangered birds have been flown to Melbourne as part of last-ditch efforts to save the species from extinction. With barely 35 birds left in the wild, scientists have long given up hope that the orange-bellied parrot can survive unassisted. The aim is to build a captive population that can one day supply large numbers of birds back into the wild. That is where Healesville Sanctuary, the native wildlife centre north-east of Melbourne, comes into the equation. The parrots are delicate passengers and are prone to head injuries from bumps and collisions. Mark Holdsworth, of Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries and Environment, packed the birds into padded boxes to lessen the risk posed by flight turbulence and the rough and tumble of Melbourne traffic. Upon arrival at Healesville, one of the scientists, Kristy Penrose, was relieved to see the birds had made the journey safe and sound. One cheeky member of the travelling party announced his arrival by biting a vet's finger.

The next four to six weeks will be spent in quarantine before the newcomers are introduced to Healesville's captive population. Though it boasts 80 orange-bellied parrots, the captive flock at Healesville is struggling under a lack of genetic diversity. The entire flock is spawned from just six common ancestors, which Ms Penrose says is not enough genetic variation to sustain a population long-term. The new birds, with their wild genes, are seen as the solution. Detailed genetic analysis will be used to determine which newcomer should be paired off with which member of the existing captive flock. Despite only hatching in January, they will be ready to breed in spring. Similar work is underway within captive populations in Hobart and Adelaide. The scientists have high hopes the plan can work, but the latest survey results from the wild give a sobering reminder of how high the stakes are. Of the 35 birds thought to be left in the wild, only five are known to have completed their winter migration across Bass Strait to the mainland so far. *Age

Tasmanian Foxes

Millions of dollars are still being poured into the hunt for foxes in Tasmania despite no physical evidence of the animals for more than a year. According to Fox Eradication Program records on the Environment Department's website, the last time program staff found a fox scat was in March last year, in the North-West. This final scat find was preceded by a high number of scat discoveries in 2008 and 2009, and the most recent carcass find was in 2006 at Cleveland in the Northern Midlands. However, the fox hotline continues to receive calls. Between April 9 and May 6 there were 11 calls indicating possible sightings spread across the state, as well as reports of animal kills, carcasses and fox sounds. Overall, the evidence of foxes in Tasmania constitutes four carcasses, one skull, one discovery of blood, two sets of footprints and 57 scats. Critics of the eradication program have used the lack of evidence in the past year as a reason to question the money being spent on it at a time when state finances are stretched. Environment Minister Brian Wightman said that at the end of the financial year, the total spent on the Fox Eradication Program since it began in 2001 would be $27.7 million. This included $18.3 million in state funding, $9.1 million in federal funding, and Invasive Animals Co-operative Research Centre funding of $271,000. The federal funding agreement is in place until mid-2013, with $4.6 million still available. Independent member for the state Upper House seat of Windermere Ivan Dean said he wanted to know why the fox evidence trail had so suddenly gone cold. *Mercury

Lumpy Jaw

Kangaroos in captivity often develop a contagious, and sometimes fatal, gum condition called lumpy jaw disease. Now, veterinarians at Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo and the northern Gan Garoo Park have teamed up with dentists and pharmacists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to create a tooth varnish that successfully prevents the condition. The only currently available antibiotic treatment for this disease required anesthetizing the animals daily for 10 days and keeping them quarantined, which was extremely tough on them and their keepers. In fact, some 40 percent of the marsupials at Gan Garoo died from the disease or the stress of treatment - figures that are reflected at other zoos across the world. The Israeli team has received requests from zoos in Australia and elsewhere to help create more of the innovative tooth varnish, and has published the "recipe" online. A company is now being set up at Hebrew University to sell the topical compound, which may also be helpful for dogs and cats. *Israel21c

Koala Video

All of our natives are under siege and the plight of one is connected to the plight of all. Watch the video ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MB88NL36UmQ

As if we didnt already know this!

The head of the federal government’s climate commission says the latest science makes the case for human-induced global warming indisputable. The commission released its first major report, The Critical Decade, this morning. It says global warming could cause the global sea level to rise up to one metre by the end of the century, higher than previously thought. The commission, established by the Labor-led federal government to help tackle climate change, is also calling for a fresh approach to reducing carbon emissions. The chief commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery, said there was no doubt any more about what was happening to the globe, saying the report’s findings were based on a peer review of the latest science. “The planet’s warming, that is incontrovertible,” he told ABC Radio. “All the data points that way, that humans are causing it is also incontrovertible.” Professor Flannery said anyone who doubted that was “doubting the basics of science”. “We are in the middle of an unintentional experiment at the moment, which is changing the way the world works and we have to limit the damage.” * The Critical Decade
You can read the Report here .. http://www.scribd.com/doc/56043375/The-Critical-Decade-Climate-Change-Commision-Report


Zoos SA conservation biologist Dr Elisa Sparrow says the numbers and locations of southern hairy-nosed wombats largely remain a mystery and she hopes workshops with farmers and other landholders will provide answers. "I don't want to see them go the same way as the northern hairy-nosed wombat, which is critically endangered," she said. "It's really important to work out good management methods to promote co-existence, so that doesn't happen." Wombats often come into conflict with landholders over their large burrows, which can stretch 20m across and 2m down. The animals can also compete with livestock for food and damage infrastructure or machinery such as roads, fences, dams and tractors. The southern hairy-nosed wombat is protected but land managers can get a permit to cull animals that cause environmental or economic damage to property or land, or where there is a risk to public safety. Dr Sparrow said she had an affinity for the wombats' "stubborn attitudes". "They don't let anyone stop them, which is something I'm sure people on the land can attest to," she said. The first workshop is on Thursday at Maitland Bowling Club, Yorke Peninsula, followed by others next month in the Far West, Gawler Ranges and Eyre Peninsula. Email esparrow@zoossa.com.au or phone 8230 1321. South Australians can complete a survey at zoossa. com.au/conservation-ark *Adelaide Now


A sick whale was supported by members of its pod before it succumbed to an infection and died off the Scottish coast, marine experts have said. The stricken female pilot whale was spotted with a group of about 60 others before the illness caused it to become stranded in shallow water. Its body was recovered from Loch Carnan, South Uist, an island in the Outer Hebrides. A preliminary post-mortem examination on the whale by Dr Andrew Brownlow of the Scottish Agricultural College found potential evidence of an infection in the animal’s melon, a fatty organ found in the forehead. It also showed external injuries to the whale were not enough to cause its death. Further tests indicate the creature was coming to the end of its lactation period after motherhood and rescuers said they hoped the mammal’s young calf would have been fully weaned. Dave Jarvis, of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, said: ‘It appears that what has been witnessed is a group of these extremely social creatures accompanying an ill individual and that the infection may have caused this animal to strand. Despite an extensive search, there have been no sightings of the remainder of the pod.’ Pilot whales were almost stranded in the same sea loch last October. Less than a week later, 33 whales believed to be the same group were found dead on a beach in Co Donegal, Ireland. The species prefer deep water but come inshore to feed on squid, their main food. Last week a stranded pilot whale died in the Sullom Voe inlet, Shetland.

Sea Irchins

Commercial harvesting of long spined sea urchins in Tasmania is slowly making inroads into the management of the marine pest. A St Helens seafood company is churning out four tonnes of urchin roe a week, which is a delicacy in some cultures. The urchins were first spotted in Tasmanian waters about 30 years ago, and now there are millions. They have stripped bare kelp beds along parts of the north-east coast, which is vital habitat for abalone and rock lobsters. Dave Allen from Tasmanian Seafoods says seaweed beds are slowly growing back in harvest areas, but other reefs are underwater wastelands. "It's like a nuclear holocaust's basically gone off underwater," he said. "There's nothing left but bare rock and sea urchins." The Primary Industries and Water Minister, Bryan Green, says the harvest is a win for both the economy and the environment. Export markets are being explored in China and Japan. *ABC

Barbed Wire

Green members on the Palerang Shire Council (NSW) have opposed a motion to ban the use of barbed wire fencing on rural residential fencing despite being informed in graphic detail before their meeting of the horrendous injuries it causes to our wildlife and being directed to the wildlife friendly fencing websites for new ideas. Just more evidence that the Greens are not interested in our wildlife (unless of course there is only one left on the planet, then they will take an interest). Read an article about the Council decision on pages 5 and 6 of the local rag at: http://www.bungendoremirror.com.au . Green Councillor Judith Turley was one of the most focal opponents of the motion to ban barbed wire, ably supported by another Green Councillor Paul Cockram while the third Green Councillor Catherine Moore did not turn up to the meeting. *Network Item

Mice Cause Dust Storm?

Farmers say a big dust storm across South Australian agricultural areas at the weekend could have been prevented. The dust was followed by good rainfall which will help the season's prospects. Chairman of the South Australian Farmers Federation Grains Council, Michael Schaefer, says the rain benefits have outweighed the dust damage, but it is an unfortunate situation. "The really disappointing thing is I think the dust storm, a lot of it was to do with a lack of growers' ability to make their own mouse bait and that's why we've had so much exposed ground which caused the dust storm," he said. "Not having cheap mouse bait means that growers are having to resort to other means to try and control them and one of those is to burn and cultivate and work their country to try and minimise the amount of mice damage." Mice are in plague numbers across a wide area of SA. *ABC

What's the Connection?

Frogs, Bees, Bats are all in desperate trouble and scientists are scrambling to find out why, so far to little avail. Could there be a connection between the diseases that seem to be rapidly killing off the animals we depend on to pollinate our foods and protect us from insect invasions? Since 2006, the little brown bat has been reduced from a population of about 60 million to just 60,000 in New York State. This most common bat, as well as bats that were already endangered, needs emergency national action to save it from extinction. White Nose Syndrome in bats is all too similar to that of colony collapse disorder in bees - the mysterious malady that causes honeybees to inexplicably flee their hives. And the first report of White Nose Syndrome came in late 2006 and early 2007, around the same time the world was learning about colony collapse disorder. Beekeepers have bemoaned the slow pace of research and government action to find out and hopefully stop the cause of colony collapse disorder. Frogs are suffering from a similarly mysterious fungus that is working its way across the world. And scientists have struggled to find enough money to study it and hold out little hope of slowing its spread. The fact that entire categories of organisms are suffering precipitous decline - all bees, bats and frogs - is disturbing, indeed. * Read more ... http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/22441

Native Rat Needed False Teeth

An outback Queensland town is offering a reward for a native rat that has stolen a woman's set of false teeth. Native rat numbers have exploded in parts of western Queensland due to the exceptional wet season. Stonehenge resident Margaret Pidgeon, south-west of Longreach, says her teeth disappeared from her bedside table and she is certain a rat is to blame. "When I look up, there's this rat looking at me and I had nothing there to hit him with," she said. "Anyway, when I went to get my false teeth the next morning, they are not there, they are gone. "He didn't want my glasses, all he did was take my teeth, the bloody thing. "He didn't waste his time the bugger, he just wanted my false teeth - probably took them back to his nest to see if he could chew them up. "Put up a reward, 'wanted dead or alive: rat with false teeth'." Ms Pidgeon says the reward is light-hearted but it is hard to smile without teeth. Other residents say the native rats are chewing their way through everything from walls to hats. Stonehenge grazier Karen Emmott says she gave up counting after relocating 120 rats. "They have 12 young every three weeks so there's probably lots more out there," she said. "They've certainly wreaked havoc in the house. "They've chewed the nose rest on your glasses, they've chewed those off a pair of glasses, they've eaten the crown off my Akubra hat, which was hanging on a wall. "They chewed a very large hole into our pantry through a chipboard from underneath the pantry. "We put a large besser brick to block it and they chewed an archway next to it and just kept coming." *ABC

Wildlife Poaching

Police have arrested a man suspected of being a key player in one of Thailand's largest tiger trafficking rings, police and a wildlife conservation group said Sunday. Authorities had been searching for the 49-year-old Thai man since last year, when they issued a warrant for his arrest after seizing a Bengal tiger cub during a separate operation, police said in a statement. Police believe the network is buying tigers and selling them to purchasers mainly in China via land routes in neighboring Laos and Vietnam, said Chanadda Thanikulap of the FREELAND Foundation, an anti-trafficking group based in Thailand. The suspect was arrested Saturday in northeastern Thailand and is being held in Bangkok, police said. *AP


Despite a ban on the trade of most turtle species, the practice is still going on in connivance with officials of the Wildlife department and fishermen in many parts of the province, The News has learnt. The Green Turtle ó an endangered species found in Pakistani seawaters ó is considered extremely precious and is at the verge of extinction due to its illegal hunting, officials of provincial wildlife department said on the eve of World Turtle Day to be marked today (Monday). World turtle Day is observed all over the world on May 23 to increase people’s knowledge about turtles and to encourage them to help the animal survive. The officials believe that the illegal hunting of turtles is rampant in Karachi Guddu, Kashmore, Ghotki and other areas of the province. They said that usually people come from Punjab and take turtles to their respective areas for export to other countries. Though several drives were launched against turtle hunters and people involved in the trade, however, the theft had not come to a halt, they added.
Read more ... http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=48496&Cat=4&dt=5/23/2011

Bob Irwin Fined

Environmental campaigner Bob Irwin has been fined $300 for his part in a coal seam gas protest on the Western Darling Downs. Mr Irwin, father of the late Steve Irwin, pleaded guilty in the Chinchilla Magistrates Court to contravening a police directive at a rally at Tara last month. He was protesting the Queensland Gas Company's plan to put a pipeline in the area. At the time of his arrest, Mr Irwin said he would continue to fight Queensland Gas Company's plan to put a pipeline in the area. "I've actually witnessed the devastation that's taking place out in the Tara district, not just to the people, but to our environment, and I'm quite angry," he said. "We've got to think of our future and our children and our grandchildren." He said his arrest at the protest was the first time he had been taken into custody. Two of Mr Irwin's colleagues who were also arrested received one-year good behaviour bonds. Mr Irwin, who founded Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, now lives on a property 30 minutes outside of Kingaroy with his wife, Judy. *ABC


For days she limped through the bush in pain, desperately trying to care for the joey in her pouch while impaled by arrows. She tried to pull the arrow from her leg with her paws. But her efforts, and the best intentions of rescuers, could not save her. The kangaroo and her joey died after she moved just as a ranger fired, causing a tranquilliser dart to hit a vulnerable part of her body. Nikki Sutterby, from the Australian Society for Kangaroos, said it was unlikely the kangaroo and her joey, first seen at Wyangala Dam near Cowra in New South Wales the Sunday before last, were victims of hunters. "The arrows aren't hunting arrows; they are target arrows," Ms Sutterby said yesterday. "Hunting arrows are meant to kill. She was in agony for four days before anyone could get close." Michael Ansell from rescue group WIRES said he was aware of another roo with an arrow in it but searchers could not find the animal. Cowra police are searching for the culprits. *HeraldSun

The slaying of two kangaroos in in Lysterfield Lake Park has been likened to the stoning of a black swan in Moonee Ponds. The two eastern grey kangaroos have been found dead on separate days - the latest on May 3. One was decapitated and the other had its throat slashed and face savaged with a sharp weapon. Lysterfield Lake Park ranger John Goodman, who was outraged by the attack, said rangers found the butchered animals near the boat jetty. “The rangers were shaken at what the animals had been through,” Mr Goodman said. “Imagine what it would be like if a member of the public stumbled across them instead of us. “Both were found close to the main picnic area and we have young schoolchildren and family groups coming through there all the time.” Sen-Constable Paul Clavering, of Narre Warren police, is investigating the killings.

“We’re hoping someone’s spoken about the incident or someone knows something about it,” he said. Offenders found guilty of aggravated cruelty, leading to the death or serious disablement of an animal, face penalties up to $27,200 or two years’ jail. Mr Goodman said the attack evoked memories of the nesting swan that was stoned at Queens Park Lake on April 7. But he said the roo killers had risked their lives. He explained: “The person or people would have had to tackle the kangaroo to do this. The males get quite big and the females are still probably more than a metre tall. They’ve got very sharp claws and powerful hind legs. “The kangaroos are used to having people around them, but it still would have taken a bit to catch them.” A Parks Victoria spokeswoman said photos of the slain kangaroos were too graphic to be released. Mr Goodman said it wasn’t the first time kangaroos had been hunted at the park. He said a number were shot with arrows about two years ago. If you have any information about this attack, contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. *Pakenham Leader

Meanwhile a reward has been offered for information that leads to the conviction of the person responsible for shooting a kangaroo with a bow and arrow at Wyangala Dam. Nikki Sutterby, Co Ordinator of Australian Society for Kangaroos announced the reward this week. “We’re offering $1000 reward for any information that leads to a conviction of the person responsible for this cruel act,” Mr Sutterby said. *Cowra Guardian

Fraser Island Dingoes

Dear Premier Anna Bligh, World-famous forensic scientist Hans Brunner told me a few days ago - “Get tourists off Fraser Island” We echo his call. Let it be our CATCH CRY This is the only way to save the starving maltreated dingoes on Fraser Island ; your Government is driving them to extinction. And we will not allow this to happen. The dingo does not belong to you. Dingoes belong to Australia. “Get tourists off Fraser Island” You have no regard for dingoes despite their being your responsibility. Terry Harper has stipulated that tourists not feed the dingoes on Fraser Island and that no fish offal remains on the beaches as nature provides and has ever been thus, since time immemorial- it is the natural feed for dingoes and you removed it. How would you like it, if your food source were removed?

This is WHY Jennifer Parkhurst fed the STARVING dingoes. Then Terry Harper decided that the poor dingoes needed ear tags! WHAT??? Ear tags? Ears are what native species use to hear danger. So he has removed a most basic instinctive behaviour from Dingoes that they NEED for their survival. “Get tourists off Fraser Island” We call for Terry Harpers’ removal that you stop the charade that is the Tourist industry on Fraser Island And by the way 9 years old Clinton Gage was UNSUPERVISED and teasing the dingoes at the time the dingoes “attacked” him yet they were blamed. When people settle on islands, they usually depend on transport to import food and supplies. Why should dingoes be any different? In history for thousands of years they had wide ranges in hunt in, and now the pure bred dingoes, the last in the world, are being starved and deprived of their livelihoods.

The situation on Fraser Island is an international disgrace. 70 per cent of the 100 to 120 dogs left on the island are malnourished and the population could be wiped out within years." Is this how we are to be known in Australia? As an exterminator of native animals? “Get tourists off Fraser Island” It is time NOW to protect our dingoes on Fraser Island. Remove Dingo ear tags. This is brutally cruel and unjust. Give them food drops
Stop the culling, electric shocks, the starvation and the torture of dingoes. Remove Terry Harper from his job-he brings shame to Australia for his abusive treatment of dingoes and to Jennifer Parkhurst. Your current Fraser Island Dingo Management Strategy is not working. Dingo management must be taken out of the hands of DERM, as they are intent on killing them and now have a world-wide reputation for animal cruelty. Pardon Jennifer Parkhurst- remove her fine; payback to her the money she has already paid for doing YOUR JOB . “Get tourists off Fraser Island”. * Letter to Anna Bligh form AWPC.

Ed Comment; A number of wildlife groups are now calling for the end of tourism on Fraser Island, due to the appalling mismanagement of the Island by the Queensland Government, and particullarly of the dingo mismanagement. We couldnt agree more. Wildlife groups once had great hopes for the protection of Fraser Island, and the wildlife on the Island, but since the Queensland Labor Government took over the Island management after the Fraser Island Fitzgerald Inquiry in 1991, the Island has slid into disrepute and disrepair. Around 300,00 to 500,000 tourists visit Fraser every year, and many calls for a limit on numbers have been ignored by the Queensland Government. Many of the visitors treat the Island badly, with erosion from 4-wheeldrives, vandalism, and toileting in the dunes and watercourses just some of the many problems. The Island now has very bad vibes, and it seems to us a ban on so many visitors may be just what Fraser Island needs. *

Coal Seam Gas Blowout

Farmers and environmentalists are demanding a moratorium on the $60 billion coal seam gas industry after a well blowout near Dalby spewed potentially explosive methane and water 90m in the air. The well was out of control for more than 24 hours, sparking an emergency response from the fire brigade and specialist teams before operators Arrow Energy capped it mid-afternoon Monday after three failed attempts. Premier Anna Bligh has promised an investigation. "When we have an incident like this, we go and have a look, work out what happened and what needs to be done," she said. "We won't hesitate to take any action needed." The warning follows the shutdown of Cougar Energy's experimental underground gasification plant near Kingaroy last year and concerns in the Surat Basin about environmental damage the industry may cause. About 1000 cubic metres an hour of methane escaped but Arrow said the gas presented only a remote risk of explosions and people should not be "overly concerned".

Landowner Tom O'Connor said it was the fourth incident that had occurred since Arrow won the right to explore and drill on his land a decade ago and he had no idea if he was safe. "How would I know, I'm just a farmer. It's the Government's job to make sure this is safe," Mr O'Connor said. "It's just crazy. It's different incidents every time but this is pretty major. This is a water spout out of a gas well they were trying to bring into production. But it's gas, if they get a spark she'll be on fire." Neighbours have also said Arrow had an incident a year ago when gas escaped from a pipeline and another when treated water flowed across their property. Another household was prevented from leaving their house for three days. Arrow said it was able to resolve the issue quickly and stressed this was one well out of several hundred it operates. But farming group Agforce said it was a sign of what's around the corner when Queensland has up to 40,000 coal seam wells supplying the export industry. "If you get this with just 10 per cent of development production, what happens when you are looking at 40,000 wells?" spokesman Drew Wagner said. Greens spokeswoman Libby Connors said it was only a matter of time before there was a major blowout. *Courier Mail


You should be aware – and deeply concerned - that these stories are NOT being reported in the Queensland media – and Regional Councils like Toowoomba are not even telling their residents. Mining of this magnitude will destroy our great state of Queensland as we know it – all to save two broken and busted Governments. In 20 years we will be a slag heap, our waters will be polluted, our Artesian Basin sucked dry – and we will have nothing left to feed our people. Please LOCK THE GATE and prepare to stand up and fight – our farmland and our way of life is worth it. Virtually the entire Darling Downs is now covered by coal permits of one form or another. The South Burnett will be next, as well as the Brisbane Valley.
Ambre Energy has a mining lease application over 2000 ha of Felton Valley, as well as around 70,000 ha under exploration permits all the way from Toowoomba to Warwick
Newmont has a mineral development license over 13000 ha south of Felton.
Acland (New Hope mine) is currently in Stage One which covers 2,2000 ha. By Stage Three – with the Environmental Impact Study now awaiting rubber-stamp approval – it will include an additional 5,400 ha, giving the mine a total area of 7,400 ha.
New Hope Coal owns all the farmland almost to Oakey showground, and east out to Goombungee.
Other mining leases in the East Acland area amount to an area around 40 sq km.
Haystack Plain: 13,000 ha of iconic Darling Downs farmland. Tarong Energy – which is wholly owned by the Queensland Government – owns the Mineral Development Licence for the coal deposit under the Haystack Plain.
Tarong Energy representatives have stated that they have more than enough coal to service the Tarong Power Station for its entire operating life (25years+) without using the Haystack coal deposit.
They are, however, now reviewing the asset with the intention to sell the Mineral Development Licence to another company. The Haystack coal deposit is export quality coal and is likely to be exported.’

There are exploration leases or applications for leases over the entire towns of Warwick, Highfields, Meringandan, Gowrie, Kingsthorpe, Pittsworth, Oakey, Gowrie Mountain, Hodgson Vale and Cabarlah.
There are also applications for bauxite mines near Crows Nest and nearby Geham.
There are bauxite exploration permits for 7,000sq kms of Qld, focused around Kingaroy and Pittsworth in particular.
There is a permit granted for a coal mine in the Brisbane Valley only 5 kms upstream from Somerset Dam – Brisbane’s major water catchment area.

The Qld State Government, the Toowoomba Regional Shire Council and a local developer are currently forcing throughthe biggest noxious and dangerous toxic industrial estate ever seen in regional Australia on the famous old grain and thoroughbred farm Wellcamp Downs – only ten minutes from the centre of the city. At 600ha, it is double the size of the heavy industrial area for the entire city of Brisbane. The site – a famous grain farm – is an old koala habitat crossed by a creek that flows into the Murray-Darling. When the south-westerly winds blow in winter, noxious fumes will settle on the roofs of Toowoomba – and straight into rainwater tanks. Despite the fact that Toowoomba is a Garden City with an economy based on farming, tourism, education and retirees, there have been no environmental studies on the site or buffering to protect nearby farms. One of Australia’s leading Urban Planners has described the proposal as ‘simply unbelievable - a blight on the landscape”.
There are now exploration leases or applications for leases over almost every major grain farm, thoroughbred farm and beef farm on the Darling Downs. *Network Item


Genetic studies suggest that snakes are related to monitor lizards and iguanas, while their anatomy points to amphisbaenians (‘worm lizards'), a group of burrowing lizards with snake-like bodies. The debate has been unresolved — until now. The recent discovery by researchers from the University of Toronto Mississauga and the Museum für Naturkunde BerlinGermany of a tiny, 47 million-year-old fossil of a lizard called Cryptolacerta hassiaca provides the first anatomical evidence that the body shapes of snakes and limbless lizards evolved independently. The findings were reported in Nature. The fossil reveals that amphisbaenians are not closely related to snakes, but instead are related to lacertids, a group of limbed lizards from Europe, Africa and Asia. “This is the sort of study that shows the unique contributions of fossils in understanding evolutionary relationships,” says Professor Robert Reisz from the University of Toronto Mississauga, the senior author of the study. “It is particularly exciting to see that tiny fossil skeletons can answer some really important questions in vertebrate evolution.”

“This fossil refutes the theory that snakes and other burrowing reptiles share a common ancestry and reveals that their body shapes evolved independently,” says lead author Professor Johannes Müller of Humboldt-Universität, Berlin. The German research team, led by Müller and American graduate student Christy Hipsley, used X-ray computed tomography to reveal the detailed anatomy of the lizard's skull and combined the anatomy of Cryptolacerta and other lizards with DNA from living lizards and snakes to analyze relationships.Their results showed that Cryptolacerta shared a thickened, reinforced skull with worm lizards and that both were most closely related to lacertids, while snakes were related to monitor lizards like the living Komodo dragons, according to a University of Toronto Mississauga press release.

Even though snakes and amphisbaeans separately evolved their elongate, limbless bodies, the discovery of Cryptolacerta reveals the early stages in the evolution of burrowing in lizards. By comparing Cryptolactera to living lizards with known lifestyles, co-author and U of T Mississauga paleontologist Jason Head determined that the animal likely inhabited leaf-litter environments and was an opportunistic burrower. “ Cryptolacerta shows us the early ecology of one of the most unique and specialized lizard groups, and also reveals the sequence of anatomical adaptations leading to amphisbaenians and their burrowing lifestyle,” says Head. “Based on this discovery, it appears worm-lizards evolved head first.” *The Hindu

Fire Ants

The war against deadly fire ants could be lost amid claims the $250 million program to eradicate the pest has been badly mismanaged. Scientists say mishandling of the program has sparked widespread "cynicism" about Queensland's claims to have the problem under control. They are demanding an independent review before a national disaster develops. Efforts to wipe out the pest have descended into a blame game, with Queensland Agriculture Minister Tim Mulherin accusing the Federal Government of putting national biosecurity at risk through years of inadequate funding of the state's eradication program. The State Government has warned the $15 million being injected into the problem each year might not be enough to stop the species invading other states and potentially causing billions of dollars damage to the national economy. "Queensland does not believe $15 million is sufficient to fund a fire-ant eradication program," Mr Mulherin said. "We need a stronger ongoing funding commitment from all states and the Commonwealth to continue the eradication program in Queensland so that we don't see fire ants marching into NSW and Victoria," he said.

Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said Canberra had provided half the $245 million spent on the fire-ant program since 2001. "The Gillard Government takes any potential threat to Australia's biosecurity seriously," he said. Queensland receives $15 million a year under national funding arrangements to combat fire ants, with the Bligh Government injecting an extra $6 million this year. The stoush has hit a crucial point following the discovery of hundreds of new infestations in Brisbane's southwest since 2010. Members of the National Management Group the key decision-making body on fire ants will meet next month to consider "further advice on the program". The meeting could determine the future direction and funding for the fire-ant program, with the group responsible for deciding on the best combat method. A Campbell Newman-led LNP government has pledged an independent review of the program amid claims the Bligh Government has overstated its achievements. LNP agriculture spokesman Andrew Cripps said the government "does not appear to be making substantial headway". "We definitely need to have a good solid look at why the response is not being effective," he said.

Former top government adviser on fire ants Pam Swepson, who became a whistleblower, said the country would pay the price for government bungles and cover-ups. "We are yet to have a death in Queensland but it's just a matter of time," she said. Dr Swepson said the extent of the fire-ant infestation in Queensland has been covered up to stop the Federal Government pulling funding. "While they (the State Government) were continuing to call it an eradication program, even though it was extremely compromised and there's no chance we can eradicate it any more, the funding kept coming which would give them reason for under-reporting," she said. Experts in the US, where people die from fire-ant stings every year, say the state has little chance of eradication.

Fire-ant expert Dr Bart Drees, from Texas, where $US1.2 billion ($1.1 billion) a year is spent on containing fire ants, said eradication had not been achieved anywhere, and University of NSW entomologist Dr Chris Orton has called for an independent assessment of claimed successes. Biosecurity Queensland fire-ant eradication program deputy director Craig Jennings insisted Queensland could still wipe out the pest. An estimated 65,000 colonies were detected when fire ants were first found in 2001, but last year that was down to about 500 colonies. Mr Jennings said the strategy could now shift from large-scale treatments to surveillance and more targeted treatments. The number of fire-ant staff has grown from 100 workers five years ago to 190 staff less than half the number on the program in 2001. *Courier Mail


The humble flea has put a spring in the step of scientists who are researching smart materials. The jumping ability of fleas and other insects like grasshoppers is because of resilin, which, as its name suggests, is an extremely resilient elastic material. In the lab at UniSA, scientists are testing the properties of a synthetic version with collaborators at CSIRO. They hope to develop new "intelligent" materials in a discovery project funded by the Australian Research Council. Associate Professor Naba Dutta from UniSA's Ian Wark Research Institute says resilin can change from a liquid to a highly elastic gel in response to a change in temperature, pH or light. "This is completely new. We are excited," he said. "It is humbling to know I've been working for 20 years in this field and then we find an intelligent biomaterial from a flea that outsmarts all human efforts . . ."It is very, very surprising to see that a flea is using such a smart thing."

Potential medical applications of this smart material include controlled drug delivery, tissue engineering and even wrinkle creams. The scientists also want to create sensors and other devices that adapt or respond to changes in the environment. The inspiration comes from the famous jumper flea, which is just 1.5 to 3.3mm long but jumps up to 8cm into the air or horizontally up to 33cm or 100 times its body length. Resilin is a member of the family of natural elastic proteins that includes elastin, gluten, gliadin, abductin and spider silks. It is found in many insects such as fleas, spittle bugs, cicadas, and dragonflies that perform highly repetitive movements. "They use muscles to generate energy and then they store that energy in the resilin elastic pad," Associate Professor Dutta said. "They use it all of a sudden . . . in a fraction of a second to jump, or fly, or whatever they want to do." The research is published as a "hot paper" in the top chemistry journal, Angewandte Chemie (International Edition). Two PhD students in the area have finished their projects and found jobs. Another two or three students now have the chance to take part. *SA News

Flying Foxes

It's only autumn and Canberra's grey-headed flying fox colony has had enough of the cold weather. Last year they stayed in Commonwealth Park over winter for the first time since arriving in 2003. But most of them high-tailed it out of town last week when a savage winter arrived in the national capital early with minus 7 degree temperatures. Australasian Bat Society president Michael Pennay, who counts the bats every two months, said from a peak of 5000 earlier in autumn their numbers had dwindled to about 100. A nationally-listed threatened species due to declining numbers, the flying foxes and another species, the little red flying fox, were recorded occasionally in Canberra until 2003, when an estimated 300 grey-headed ones set up camp near Stage 88 in Commonwealth Park. Food probably drew them to Canberra. 'They mainly feed on flowering eucalypts. When you think about Canberra being the bush capital we have all these different species, many not native to Canberra region, so there's pretty much things flowering at different times of the year,'' Mr Pennay said. After foraging through the night the bats return to camp before sunrise and sleep. They rouse towards dusk and squabble loudly as they sort out community issues and mating.

''Even if you look up you don't realise how many are there until you count them,'' Mr Pennay said. ''There's a lot more than you think.'' The arrival of bats in Canberra followed a trend across Australia of flying foxes camping in urban area as their natural habitat continued to shrink. Canberra's bat population was minuscule compared to 40,000 in Melbourne. The Victorian capital of Melbourne was once thought to be the coldest place bats could endure until they hung out last winter in Commonwealth Park. They could not tolerate temperatures above 40 degrees. In Melbourne they died in their thousands in extreme weather. The bat society is discussing with the National Capital Authority a more formal counting program. Mr Pennay believes the animals arrival had been positively accepted in Canberra, despite the odd complaint about noise and smell. In Sydney Botanic Gardens they are unwelcome because of the noise, numbers and proximity to high- conservation trees. ''That's one of the problems with flying foxes, they tend to congregate in big numbers, that can be problematic,'' he said. 'In Canberra they have picked a reasonable area, there's no schools or homes nearby.'' Mr Pennay said the bats carried two potentially fatal diseases, bat lyssavirus and hendra virus. People should avoid handling them and if one was caught in a fruit tree net, Mr Pennay advised the RSPCA be contacted. *Canberra Times