Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wildlife Bytes 2/6/11

Leading Stories


Named after a Christmas carol, Noel the turtle has indeed proved to be a first. The 93kg green sea turtle was taken to Australia Zoo's Wildlife Hospital after being rescued by Moreton Bay Marine Park staff last December. She had been seriously injured after becoming entangled in a crab pot float line and her left front flipper sustained such damage that it had to be amputated. After six weeks of rehabilitation, Noel was released off Mooloolaba, with experts uncertain of her future. Fitted with a tracking device, the resilient reptile proved she could not only survive but thrive. Since February 3, she has travelled more than 2600km, paddling around Moreton Bay before heading south to Sydney. The head of Australia Zoo's rescue unit, Brian Coulter, said Noel was leaving many four-flippered friends in her wake. "This is a mindblowing achievement, given she only has three flippers," Mr Coulter said.

"It is very important research because it shows that amputee turtles can survive. Some institutions have euthanased them in the past, thinking they would not make it." The zoo helps to rescue and repair up to 180 turtles a year. Mr Coulter said the rescue unit was a community service that relied heavily on donations. The satellite tracking project is a collaboration between the zoo, Dr Hamish Campbell of the University of Queensland and Dr Colin Limpus of the Department of Environment and Resource Management. Each tracker costs $2000 and satellite time costs $2000. Noel's research was paid for by Terri Irwin and Sci-Fleet Toyota.
* Courier Mail


Scientists have discovered that the Northern Territory's great desert skink is the only one of the world's 5,000 species of lizard that builds a home for its family. The endangered species is the size of a blue-tongue lizard but builds burrows up to 13 metres long in the sandy soils of Central Australia. The great desert skink lives in the shadows of Australia's most famous monolith, Uluru. Researcher Steve McAlpin has been studying the skink for years and says they are a beautiful lizard. "The dorsal, the back surface of them, is this beautiful orange colour and at Uluru they've got a bright yellow belly," he said. "This particular lizard is the only one so far that's been documented to construct a burrow system, so they're actually constructing their own home site and they're doing that to benefit their juveniles, their offspring." Mr McAlpin trapped skinks from Uluru and tested their genetics as part of his masters research. The result showed family groups did indeed live together, confirming both modern science and the knowledge of local Anango Aboriginal people.

"They used to say stuff like these live in family groups, the males dig a burrow, which seems to be what happens, males dig burrows," Mr McAlpin said. "They'd say the males go off and find a wife and bring her back and then they have kids. Then they have more kids and then they all live together in the burrow. "The Anangu people knew all that sort of stuff. "Observation is a great tool and when you build up observations over hundreds of generations of people then there's pretty much no doubt that it's going to be accurate." Macquarie University research supervisor Doctor Adam Stow says it is a remarkable discovery. "To cooperate to build a long-term home like this hasn't been seen in another lizard species, so it's highly unusual," he said. "This species also works cooperatively and females are faithful to their male partners. "So it's an unusual case of parental care and also having the siblings cooperate make them possibly the world's most social lizard." The lizard is a threatened species and is being monitored by rangers at Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park. *ABC


Marine scientists are catching dugongs in Moreton Bay off Brisbane to assess how they are coping with changes in their habitat. Up to 20 researchers from Queensland and New South Wales are capturing up to 20 dugongs in the bay over the next five days. The process involves researchers wearing football helmets holding the dugong in the water before it is winched on board the research boat in a stretcher. They then take blood, urine and stool samples, heart rate and weight measurements before letting them go. The dugongs can only be out of the water for a maximum of 40 minutes. Trevor Long from Sea World says about 1,000 wild dugongs are still in Moreton Bay but concerns for them are growing because Brisbane has one of the fastest growing ports in Australia.
Ed Comment; If their concerns for dugong are growing, why not just leave them alone?

NT Parks Experience

Dry season adventures will be offered to Top End locals and tourists alike with the launch of this year's Territory Parks Alive program. There is something for everyone - whether it's a close encounter with a turtle hatchling, discovering critters of the night or exploring the wetlands. More than 12,500 people a year enjoy the free ranger-guided tours, interpretation officer Michael Barritt said. From May to September, walks, cultural talks, campfire talks, slideshows, displays and activities are held at the parks and wildlife reserves across the Darwin and Katherine regions. For a Territory Parks Alive program visit the website or call 8999 4555 *NT News


He's famous for his work with some of Australia's biggest crocs, his trademark khakis and his undeniable passion for wildlife and now Bob Irwin is branching out to help save one of Australia's largest animal species – whales. Australia's leading wildlife crusader, Bob Irwin, has joined forces with the organisers of Hervey Bay's Paddle Out for Whales. Bob will officially open this year's National Whale Day event in Torquay on Saturday, June 25. Bob's love for Hervey Bay's whales grew after taking his first whale watching trip in 2010 with Paddle Out organiser Vicki Neville. Bob says it was an unforgettable experience that ignited his interest to campaign for our whales. “All of our ocean's inhabitants have the right to live freely in clean, unpolluted waters. We must do all that we can to protect our oceans and its creatures.” Bob's organisation The Bob Irwin Wildlife Fund campaigns against many wildlife issues. One of the organisation's most recent campaigns was its fight to save the Fraser Island dingo and raise concerns over the dingo management strategy. Paddle Out for Whales media volunteer Amanda French says it's a huge deal for the city to involve someone like Bob Irwin. “To have someone like Bob backing our cause is a huge deal for everyone involved in Paddle Out for Whales. Bob's experience and success with so many wildlife issues is second to none.” *Fraser Coast Chronicle

Pet Reptiles

Exotic reptiles originating from the wild can be carriers of many different pathogens and some of them can infect humans. Reptiles imported into Slovenia from 2000 to 2005, specimens of native species taken from the wild and captive bred species were investigated. A total of 949 reptiles (55 snakes, 331 lizards and 563 turtles), belonging to 68 different species, were examined for the presence of endoparasites and ectoparasites. Twelve different species of endoparasites were determined in 26 (47.3%) of 55 examined snakes. Among the tested lizards eighteen different species of endoparasites in 252 (76.1%) of 331 examined animals were found. In 563 of examined turtles nine different species of endoparasites were determined in 498 (88.5%) animals. The established prevalence of various parasites in reptiles used as pet animals indicates the need for examination on specific pathogens prior to introduction to owners. *Author: Aleksandra Vergles RatajRenata Lindtner-KnificKsenija VlahovicUrska MavriAlenka Dovc. Credits/Source: Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2011, 53:33

Python Seized

A jungle python has been seized, along with an improvised explosive, in a raid on an alleged bikie gang house in western Sydney. About 6.30am on Tuesday police searched a home at Ropes Crossing where they found the snake and the explosive device, along with drugs, a firearm and ammunition. They arrested two men, aged 36 and 26, who are allegedly members of the Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang. The explosive device was rendered safe by specialist police in a nearby park while the two men were taken to the police station and charged with firearms offences. Detective Inspector Grant Healey said the arrests were only the beginning. "This was a significant investigation targeting persons allegedly involved in crimes involving violence," he said in a statement on Tuesday. "We are not backing down from those who choose to break the law. We won't put up with it, and the community shouldn't have to either." The two men were refused bail to appear in Penrith Local Court on Tuesday. * Telegraph

Rare Seagrass

A species of seagrass found only in western and southern Australian waters has been identified as one of the most vulnerable seagrasses in the world. Posidonia sinuosa is one of 10 seagrass species worldwide in danger of being lost forever, according to a four-year international study published in the journal Biological Conservation. Study author Winthrop Professor Gary Kendrick, from The University of WA's Oceans Institute, said Posidonia sinuosa was declining at a rate of about 1.2 per cent a year. "Globally, the biggest threat to seagrasses is coastal development," he said. "Degraded water quality and the mechanical damage from dredging and port, industrial and urban growth on the coast are other major factors." Posidonia sinuosa can be found from Kalbarri through to Encounter Bay in South Australia, including in Cockburn Sound. The loss of seagrasses is significant because seagrass meadows provide shelter, food and nurseries for countless marine animals, including commercial fish and crustaceans such as the western rock lobster. They are also a major sink for carbon dioxide. Professor Kendrick said many people would be surprised to learn that climate change was not a threat to seagrasses. "Seagrasses are, in fact, one of the few groups expected to benefit from climate change," he said. *TheWest

Fraser Island

Fraser Island tour operators will be guinea pigs in the rollout of a new plan aimed at changing how tours are run in national parks. And operators are worried that the shakeup will end up costing them money. One operator pointed to the cost of refitting tag-along vehicles after a bureaucratic edict, and how it drove some businesses to the wall. Fraser Island is one of only three destinations to be included in the first phase of the plan. The others are Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park and the Whitsunday Islands. The Tourism in Protected Areas strategy wants to deliver a new balance between commerce and conservation. For example, as of early 2012 all tour operators conducting guided tours on Fraser Island will have to have eco accreditation from a body endorsed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS). Agreements will require operators to apply for QPWS endorsed eco-accredited tourism products within 12 months of entering into that agreement. * Fraser Coast Chronicle

Ed Comment, Meanwhile we've heard that a Fraser Island resident has seen about 20 dingoes fitted with a big box and antenna around their necks. So that involves more trapping, more handling, more stress and the dingoes have no idea what is happening to them. So much for the Government claiming they dont want to interfere with the dingoes. The units have boxes hanging from the collar and an antenna. A few years ago a dingo was seen struggling for more than 10 minutes in the shrub, entangled by the antennas, it was stressful for the person watching to witness as she could not assist the animal. Where is the no interference policy being adhered to by DERM? Ear Tagging under 12 months, collaring, hazing, shooting. Did they dart, capture and collar pregnant mums, they are due to have puppies next month, I wonder how they will cope going in and out of the dens with these horrible contraptions around their necks. Meanwhile the RSPCA uses a small GPS device that fits onto the dogs collar, and can be used in conjunction with a mobile phone. And this is DERM, the Government Department thats supposed to be looking after our wildlife?

Dead Fish

The Member for Keppel, Paul Hoolihan, says he is puzzled by fish deaths on central Queensland's Capricorn Coast. Dead fish have been found washed up on beaches and Mr Hoolihan says he has been told they are all one species. Mr Hoolihan says it is unlikely that bycatch from commercial trawler operators would be responsible for the deaths. "The commercial fishing trawlers have got exclusion devices on their nets for smaller fish and for turtles and different marine life," he said. "If it is only one species - as was reported to me - I can't understand why it would just be that species that would have been part of bycatch." Mr Hoolihan says there have also been dead turtles and dolphins found in the Gladstone area. "If they're caused by the same thing then it's very concerning, because there is obviously either some toxin that's been put in the water or something that's got in the water that is in fact affecting our marine life," he said. "That is very concerning because we eat fish and people go out and swim in the ocean." Meanwhile in the nearby Gladestone area, the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) says there have been no turtle deaths at Boyne Island, off Gladstone in the state's central region, since a temporary ban on net fishing was imposed. The State Government introduced the ban at the beginning of the month after more than 20 green turtles were found washed up near the Boyne River, south of Gladstone. DERM spokesman Dave Orgill says it is still determining the cause of the deaths. "At the present time we've not determined a direct link to any one cause or agent," he said. "We are working very closely with a number of stakeholders down there and users of the Boyne River to alleviate any concerns they might have that their activity might be the direct cause." *ABC

Jellyfish Plagues

When you step foot in the surf, you run the risk of the sting of sea nettles, sea wasps or other jellyfish. In fact, alarms are going off that jellyfish swarms are taking over the world's oceans - starving out food fish, injuring swimmers, overloading the nets and capsizing fishing boats. Swarms that sometimes cover hundreds of square miles recently have been reported in many of the world's prime vacation and fishing destinations, according to the National Science Foundation. The fear is that warmer waters, overfishing and pollution are depleting other species while giving jellyfish the habitat they need to thrive.*Observer
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Bat Disease

The US Fish and Wildlife Service published a plan in May of 2011 to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats. The fast-spreading disease has killed more than one million bats in the US and Canada since it detection in 2006. The new plan is meant to coordinate multiple governmental and research groups in a "swift national effort to avoid irreversible losses to bat populations". WNS derives its name from the whitish fungus which typically appears on the nose and/or wings of infected bats. However, not all infected bats display these visual symptoms. The disease causes bats to engage in atypical behaviors such as flying during periods when their prey is unavailable, such as sub-zero temperatures in daylight hours. Infected bats will also cluster around the entrances to their hibernacula (caves and other dark places in which they can safely spend the winter months). Once the disease attacks a colony of bats, it spreads quickly and typically wipes out 90% of those sharing a hibernation dwelling.
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Marine parks Scrapped

The state's top marine scientists have blasted a decision by the O'Farrell government to abolish environmental protection in two NSW marine parks, accusing it of putting marine life at ''unnecessary risk''. The zones in the Jervis Bay and Solitary Islands marine parks were approved just before the state election by the former Labor government. The changes reduced the area where fishing is permitted, added to the list of endangered marine life not allowed to be taken and better protected intermediate-depth reef habitats. Announcing the government would ''disallow'' the new zones last week, the Primary Industries Minister, Katrina Hodgkinson, told Parliament they had been introduced ''without proper community consultation'' to woo Greens' preferences. But an email sent to Ms Hodgkinson by the NSW president of the Australian Marine Sciences Association, Melanie Bishop, on behalf of more than 100 scientists said the claim was ''incorrect and seriously misguided''. The new zones were ''based on extensive community consultation processes that included more than 70 stakeholder meetings attended by hundreds of people as well as review of almost 10,000 submissions from the broad community''. 'The consultation and review process was an enormous effort spanning more than two years, considering all stakeholder perspectives and was well received by the public as encompassing and transparent,'' Dr Bishop writes in the email, which was sent on Friday. *Age

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Wildlife volunteers have kept watch over Eden Park’s kangaroo population for 64 days straight. They are dreading the wintry nights ahead but say they are not going anywhere. The Australian Society for Kangaroos announced its round-the-clock vigil on March 21 in response to the Northern Metropolitan Institute of TAFE’s plan to shoot 300 eastern grey kangaroos this year. ASK spokeswoman Fiona Corke said the protest was also on behalf of Eden Park residents who feared gunfire and stray bullets around homes. Volunteers from Gisborne, Castlemaine and Gippsland have driven to and from Eden Park about five times a week for their shift. “We are tired, it’s cold out here at night, but we’re used to it,” Ms Corke said. “We wear lots of layers and we can usually go into a resident’s house and use the microwave to heat up our wheat bags. “Our night shift changes over at midnight or 1am and there are usually three to five people on.” In their first 57 days at Eden Park, volunteers discovered four kangaroo carcasses with bullet wounds to the body, which is against the TAFE cull permit regulations. The permit allows only head shots. Residents have reported several shooting sessions and have seen men chasing kangaroos on dirt bikes and utility vehicles. Police have also been called to Eden Park several times. “We haven’t heard any shooting for the past couple of weeks,” Ms Corke said. “We’d like to think of it as a positive sign but we don’t know what’s going on in there.” *Leader

Thanks to donations from the community the Australian Society for Kangaroos (ASK) has increased its reward to $2000 for information leading to the conviction of the bow and arrow hunter responsible for killing a kangaroo at Wyangala Dam earlier this month. ASK Coordinator Nikki Sutterby said kangaroos are intelligent and sensitive creatures with complex social and family bonds. “The suffering inflicted on this kangaroo would not only have caused her immense pain and stress but also her joey and the rest of the mob,” she said. “Her death may have also caused a dependent at foot joey to be orphaned. The person responsible needs to be brought to justice.” Kangaroos are protected under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act with breaches attracting fines of up to $110,000 or 6 months imprisonment. A Melbourne man received a 12 month sentence for a similar attack on kangaroos in Melbourne last year. *Cowra Guardian

Eagles Shot

A wedge-tailed eagle crippled after being shot in a wing is unlikely to fly again despite the best efforts of a wildlife care team. Between 10 and 20 wedge-tailed eagles are found shot in Tasmania each year but experts believe this may only be a third of the number actually killed or wounded. Raptor and Wildlife Refuge of Tasmania owner Craig Webb, of Kettering, said yesterday that with only about 180 breeding pairs left in the wild, a single bird shot was a loss the species could not afford. "To have a single bird being shot is a pressure on the species as a whole," Mr Webb said. "They're not shot by accident, you don't shoot an eagle by accident. "I'm not going to mince my words with these guys, they're not exactly in the upper echelon of human intelligence." Mr Webb said the male eagle was shot about four weeks ago and had been from a breeding pair with a nest on a farm in northern Tasmania where the farmer was happy to share his land. "Farmers are starting to realise that wedge-tails are a good thing, they don't attack their lambs," he said.

And Mr Webb wanted anyone who knew of someone shooting an eagle to report it immediately. "Unless you find them with a smoking gun and have witnesses prepared to back up with statements about people who have been shooting these birds, you can't prosecute them," he said. Wildlife biologist Nick Mooney said those who shot eagles were likely to be trigger-happy and bored. "A lot of these birds are found near roads away from their territories, often in areas where street signs have been shot," Mr Mooney said. "Occasionally, there still are particular individuals in the community who have a bent against eagles but that's not common now." Despite pressures from new sub-divisions and habitat destruction, forestry, wind farms, poisons and even being hit by cars, Mr Mooney was hopeful that wedge-tailed eagles would increase in number. "With the decline in the Tasmanian devil they fill an important role as the dominant predator in Tasmania," he said. "With devil numbers going down, that frees up a huge amount of food for eagles and the survivability of young eagles increases." To find out more or donate to the Raptor and Wildlife Refuge, visit

Airport Bird Control

Brisbane Airport's most prolific tarmac pest is undergoing an unlikely makeover. About 200 ibises that forage and feed at the nearby Nudgee transfer station are being spray-painted blue in a novel bit of detective work by the Brisbane Airport Corporation. By giving the usually dirty-white birds prettier plumage, the BAC's wildlife co-ordinator Luke Harvey hopes to determine whether the dump dwellers are the same ibises that frequent the terminal. "If we see those birds land at the airport, we'll know where they came from and we'll be able to manage those sites and reduce their breeding at the source," Mr Harvey said. "They're a high-risk species for the airport, based on the likelihood of a (plane) strike and the consequences of a strike because of the weight of the bird." He said the organic dye used to stain the bird's feathers would wear off in about 10 days, sooner if it rained. "Blue's a pretty easy colour to spot. If people could contact the airport if they see a blue ibis around, that would help us know where they've been found," Mr Harvey said.

Ibis numbers have exploded throughout Brisbane since they moved to the coast from inland because of the drought. Mr Harvey said the seachange had had a dramatic effect on the birds' reproductive cycles because of the abundance of food at city tips. "Inland ibis have two to three chicks a year, but the coastal birds produce 12 to 15 chicks," he said. "That's why we're trying to control their food sources which have an impact on their reproduction rate." If the blue ibises do not turn up at the airport, Mr Harvey said different colours would be used to identify birds at other transfer stations, including Ferny Grove and Chandler. Along with ibises, kestrels, rabbits, hares, foxes and pigs present challenges for the airport which goes to great lengths to discourage animals that could end up being ingested into plane engines or struck on the tarmac. Wildlife interference costs an estimated $1.5 billion in damage and delays at airports around the world each year. From 2001 to 2010, more than 9000 animals were involved in plane strikes throughout Australia although only 36 of those resulted in a serious incident. Under federal regulations, Australian airports are obligated to monitor and manage the risks posed by animals to aviation safety. *Courier Mail

Coal Seam Gas

Queensland's food bowl will be preserved by landmark laws that place agriculture ahead of mining on the best quality land. A new two-tiered system of protecting land used for fruit, vegetable and grain production will be introduced from Tuesday by the Bligh Government. The new laws, believed to be an Australian first, will force some miners to scrap potential projects where they hold exploration permits. However, advanced plans for mine projects on the protected land would still be able to proceed but only with new mitigation restrictions. Resource Management Minister Kate Jones said on Monday the law would give certainty to farmers. "In Queensland we are very lucky to have some of the best soils in the world and some of the best coal reserves," she said. "And up until now Queensland has always encouraged mining. What this will do is actually say there are some parts of Queensland whose best use is growing food and these areas we are going to protect." Maps of two protected areas, which include 4.78 million hectares, have been released to The Courier-Mail.

They show the protected area in the south includes the Darling Downs and Granite Belt, where farmers grow a range of vegetables as well as grain. The area in the north includes Emerald and is populated by orchards. Miners will be prohibited from major projects in these areas that permanently affect the land, except in the most limited circumstances. But the land will not be protected from smaller incursions such as coal seam gas wells, which are the subject of a dispute between the mining and agriculture industries. The second-tier protection includes land from Cairns to the Queensland border that may be deemed strategic cropping but has not been tested. If the land has a history of cropping, mine proponents will be required to have the soil assessed through an open process with the community. Where the land is deemed strategic, miners would be required to minimise the impact of their project or implement a stringent mitigation strategy. "So CSG still has to go through that test but it will be based on whether it permanently alienates or not," Ms Jones said. She said mine projects in the advanced stages of approval which were on strategic cropping land would have to comply with the mitigation measures, such as providing irrigation for the surrounding area. *Courier Mail


The word fungi may conjure thoughts of tasty recipes or nasty skin infections but for a group of enthusiasts it is a natural wonder. From glow-in-the-dark species to toxic but beautiful specimens, Tasmania has the most diverse array of fungi in Australia. Globally, there are 1.5 million species of fungi but only 10 per cent of them have been described by mycologists fungi experts. "This lack of knowledge means we could be losing fungi species without knowing it," said fungi enthusiast Magali Wright, Natural Resource Management South's biodiversity co-ordinator, during a fungal foray at Fern Tree. Dr Wright said Tasmania's large tracts of moist forest fed the state's rich collection of fungi and new species were discovered each year. She said it was important the state boosted its local knowledge. "Fungi have shaped our environment, playing a major role in the colonisation of land by plants, and now support the growth of our forests, grasslands, crops and pastures," she said.

Rather than a question of what fungi can do it is what they cannot do. Fungi can recycle dead material into nutrients, build soils, support plant growth, protect plants from diseases and stress and provide food for animals. Fungi also clean polluted water and soil, restore degraded landscapes, treat human diseases and provide pest control. Fungi are more closely related to animals than plants and live above and below ground and in the oceans. "Fungi are endlessly fascinating but it is important to note you need a permit to pick fungi in Tasmania and that many species are extremely toxic to humans," Dr Wright said. "Photograph them, do not pick them, and never experiment." The website has more information. *Mercury

Tasman Island

It is hoped more birds will return to Tasman Island now that feral cats have been officially eradicated. A final check of the island, off Tasmania's south-east, by the Parks and Wildlife Service has found no trace of the pest. It follows a $250,000 baiting, trapping and hunting program in May last year. Parks and Wildlife General Manager Peter Mooney says it was a challenging task. "It's not exactly that easy to land on the island and to get the logistics to and from the island, and also the weather is quite difficult there at times." The cat population was well established. "To go in there and methodically do the planning, remove them and do the monitoring to prove there's none left is a significant achievement, especially when you're thinking they were getting rid of about 50,000 individual fairy prions each year, let alone the shearwaters they were killing as well." Mr Mooney says the island's seabirds are now on the road to recovery.

"There will be species that will come back to the island and re-establish themselves and these are species that are particularly vulnerable to cats and they would never have been able to go back to the island and establish and breed, with the cats there," he said. Several methods were used to confirm cat-free status. "The most easy and successful one is the remote camera monitoring which has been set up on the pathways that the feral cats were using regularly," Mr Mooney said. "Over the last 12 months, we've actually not picked up any cats." Tracking dogs were also taken to the island. "[They] have a fantastic smell sense for cats and they haven't been able to locate any scents at all." No feral cat scats has been found on the island during the past 12 months. *ABC