Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wildlife Bytes 18/10/11

Vale Dr Alan Wilson

Last week we received the very sad news that Dr. Alan Wilton, Patron of the "Save the Fraser Island Dingoes" organisation, lost his battle with cancer. Associate Professor Alan Wilton was from the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at The University of New South Wales. Alan was a prominent Australian geneticist, and was passionate about dingoes. He consulted with dingo conservation groups and government agencies about the hybridisation problem that may drive the dingo to extinction. He was awarded the Australian Science Communicators Unsung Hero of Science award in 2004 for his work in identifying genetic markers that can be used to discriminate between pure dingoes and hybrids and was Patron of the Bargo Dingo Sanctuary. Alan developed DNA testing as part of his canine disease research, which led to US and Australian patents. He provided genetic advice to dog breeders and developed DNA testing to work towards eliminating disease from breeds, particularly Border Collies. Alan, who was 56, was engaged to Dr Barbara Zangerl and they had planned to marry on Sunday 16 October 2011. *WPAA

Leading Article....Earthwatch Needs Help

Help volunteer and protect Melbourne Microbats & Manly's Long Nosed Bandicoots.

Families and volunteers are needed to help in a range of family and individual research teams. For those in Melbourne join an overnight expedition inside the Royal Botanical Gardens to help locate and record what number of Microbats are in the gardens and determine what impacts our urban landscape are having on these elusive bats. Family teams are also available for children ages 10+ to join their parents. Only $59 for children and $89 for adults with breakfast, snacks and accommodation all included. Dates start from November 4th through to March 3rd.

For those in Sydney spend either a day or a weekend out in North Head Sanctuary helping protect the Bandicoots from predators by luring traps to record them on camera. The weekend camping team is running on November 18th-20th and also gets to stay overnight inside the Sanctuary as well as getting up close to these rare animals on the twilight spotlight walks. Total cost is $49 for day teams and $195/$155 for the camping weekend. Dates run November and December only. To find out more information, available dates or to make a booking call Kirsty Richardson at Earthwatch on 03 9682 6828 or email krichardson@earthwatch.org.au More information can also be found on Earthwatch's website: http://www.earthwatch.org.au

Another Ghost Net Found

Crocodiles, sharks, turtles, dugongs and fish are among the victims of deadly ghost nets like this half-tonne killer found snagged on a reef at the Cobourg Peninsula. The 500kg loose fishing net was retrieved from a reef 50m off Smith Point by NT Parks and Wildlife rangers, last week. GhostNets Australia project officer Grace Heathcoat gave an update on the floating menace in Darwin at the Territory Natural Resource Management and Landcare forum, revealing 1042 nets had been found in Territory waters this year alone. Local fishermen are not believed to be at fault as 90 per cent of ghost nets come from international waters. "Ghost nets don't just kill marine creatures, if they settle on a coral reef they can smother the coral and can be a safety hazard for boats," she said.
Indigenous sea rangers, NT Fisheries and Parks and Wildlife rangers retrieve the nets from 1500km of coastline, with the average net size in a recent clean up being less than 50kg. *NT News


Scientists studying seabirds are pushing for the establishment of a feather bank. Until now, the only way to collect any information from seabirds like albatross or petrels has been attach satellite trackers to their legs when they come to shore to breed. However, the Australasian Seabird Group says wing feathers amass a large amount of data through absorbing isotopes from their environment. Group secretary Nick Carlile says as seabirds grow new feathers to replace those lost during moulting, the isotopes are trapped and can be analysed to reveal new information about their activities through the non-breeding period. "We can work out whether it's living in contaminated seas, we can work out whether it's feeding on something at the top of the foodchain or the bottom of the foodchain, we can even work out whether during that non-breeding season it's feeding on the same species of fish, perhaps but different populations." Interested people need to be registered by the Australasian Seabird Group to collect specimens as seabirds are protected species in all states. To register contact the Feather Bank representative for each state. *ABC


Work is under way to develop a prototype highway to help turtles navigate man-made barriers in rivers, creeks and weirs. The $4 million project, funded by the Queensland government, aims to aid turtle migration. The Tartrus Weir, on the Mackenzie River north-west of Rockhampton, has been chosen as the site to develop the turtleway prototype, which will be followed by a two-year monitoring program. Bulk water supplier SunWater will lead the research, design and construction of the prototype with the help of the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management. "The research and development project will investigate the design, development and installation of passages to allow turtles to migrate safely over a range of structures," Environment Minister Vicky Darling said in a statement today. She said the project would particularly follow the movements of the threatened white-throated snapping turtle and the Fitzroy River turtle species found in the Mackenzie River system. *AAP

Mountain Possums

''I hope you're sitting down,'' the email sent to Marissa Parrott last week began. As the reproductive biologist at Zoos Victoria read on, she discovered why. The email contained the results of a much-anticipated paternity test on Healesville Sanctuary's precious population of mountain pygmy possums. The results showed that the tiny alpine possums, listed as endangered in Victoria and critically endangered internationally, were capable of doing what Dr Parrott had hoped for but had never seen any evidence of - producing a litter fathered by two males. ''We're all extremely excited,'' Dr Parrott said. ''It's a huge step forward in the conservation of the species.'' But there was more to come. The paternity tests conducted at Melbourne University also proved for the first time that hybrid males were fertile - providing a vital new path for boosting the species' genetic diversity. * Age
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/environment/animals/hybrid-mountain-pygmies-hold-hope-of-a-bright-future-20111016-1lriq.html#ixzz1bAjEOwuO


A rare Sumatran orang-utan born at Perth Zoo will be released into a protected rainforest in Indonesia as part of an international program to save the species from extinction. The six-year-old male named Semeru will become the first zoo-born male orang-utan in the world to be released into the wild. It follows the success of Temara, a female Sumatran orang-utan also born in Perth Zoo and released into Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Sumatra in November 2006. Semeru - chosen for release based on his temperament and age - will be flown to Indonesia on October 16 and spend two weeks in quarantine before he is released into the same park.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/environment/conservation/rare-orangutan-to-be-released-into-wild-20111013-1lmod.html#ixzz1amy8Fyqm

Koala shot seven times

A sickening act of animal cruelty is believed responsible for a koala found overnight with seven slug gun pellets lodged in its body. The male koala, found at a remote location at Kippa-Ring on Brisbane's northside, had been callously shot in every limb sometime last week. The six-year-old will today be operated on at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, where staff have nicknamed him Fleet. Vet Dr Amber Gillett, who examined Fleet last night, placed him on intravenous antibiotics, strong pain relief and fluids. She said she was angry the koala had suffered such "immense cruelty". "Every limb has been shot," she said. "He's been shot from every side. "It's just an immense cruelty to picture someone standing there taking pot-shots as this animal as he tries to move away from them - it's just horrible. "Although they're only little slug pellets, if these people got close enough, they could do serious damage. "If one had gone through his eye it could have been a completely different story."

Fleet was believed to have been found by Department of Environment and Resource Management officers who were surveying bushland at Kippa-Ring yesterday afternoon. The Australia Zoo Rescue Unit retrieved the injured animal about 4pm and it was last night examined at the Wildlife Hospital in Beerwah. Dr Gillett said Fleet, who has large cuts on his face and foot, had been suffering with his wounds for up to a week. She said: "The wounds are infected and usually it would take at least four to five days for infection like this to set in, so I suspect the injury may have happened about a week ago. "The big laceration on his nose I suspect is a graze injury, so a pellet has taken away the tissue but hasn't lodged anywhere. He has an entry point on the top of his nose, behind the big laceration, so I suspect that's where the bullet in the sinus went in."

Dr Gillett said she would today remove the other pellets, which were not lodged too deeply. "Tomorrow (Friday) we'll assess him and see how he is," she said. "If he's stable and bright I'll attempt to remove the superficial pellets at the back of the ear and elbow. "The one in his skull will stay where it is forever, it's too deep to go poking round to try to remove it." Environment Minister Vicky Darling said she was sickened by the act. "I am absolutely appalled by this," she said. "I hope whoever is responsible for injuring this animal has the book thrown at them. "I would urge anyone who knows anything about it to contact police." Under the Nature Conservation Act, the maximum penalty for harming a koala is $300,000 or two years' imprisonment. Police have been called in to investigate. *Courier Mail


A unique pod of rare Australian dolphins could be wiped out by a coal port planned for an island just off the central Queensland coast, WWF Australia warns. Researchers believe the 70-strong snubfin dolphin population at the mouth of the Fitzroy River, 40km north of Gladstone, is genetically distinct from other Australian snubfins. The native snubfin, discovered in 2005, inhabits rivers and coasts of northern Australia and is believed to be rare.
The WWF says an Xstrata coal port planned for Balaclava Island on the mouth of the Fitzroy River could easily wipe out the local snubfin population over the next 10 to 20 years. "Even just the loss of just one dolphin per year is enough to trigger the extinction of that local population," WWF spokesman Richard Leck said.

The dolphins currently feed in the relatively pristine coastal mangroves of Balaclava Island, Mr Leck said. "The unfortunate situation is that the habitat they rely on is exactly the type of habitat that's likely to be destroyed or significantly damaged by the Balaclava Island development," he said. What's more, he expects the Australian snubfin dolphin to be declared a threatened species shortly. Xstrata's environmental impact statement for its Balaclava Island coal port is expected to be released early next year. Mr Leck said the port would almost certainly have an impact on local marine life. "When you're seeing how badly the health is in Gladstone Harbour at the moment the last thing we want to be doing is having that type of impact up and down the coastline," he said. "At some point you have to say right, we just can't keep industrialising the whole Great Barrier Reef coastline." * AAP

Climate Change

A marine research charity has confirmed a small whale spotted near Penzance was a dwarf sperm whale. The animal, little more than the size of a porpoise, swam into Mounts Bay, in west Cornwall, on Sunday. Dr Peter Evans, Director of Sea Watch, said the species had never previously been recorded off the UK coast. The confirmation means that 29 species of cetaceans have now been recorded in UK and Irish waters. Scientists know little about the whale. The whale was spotted on the beach and the sighting then reported to the coastguard and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust strandings officer, Jan Loveridge. A member of the public then managed to re-float the animal, which subsequently swam away. Dr Peter Evans said: "Pictures of the Penzance whale show it to be dwarf sperm whale, its fin being large and almost triangular. "This species has been recorded on only a handful of occasions in Europe, including Spain and France, and never in Britain or Ireland. "It is just one of the increasing number of records of warm water species to be turning up around the British Isles in recent years." To little is known about the dwarf sperm whale,other than it is listed as 'data deficient' on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Meanwhile, divers have recorded a species of prawn and fish off Devon and Cornwall for the first time, the Marine Conservation Society has said. The black faced blenny and the anemone prawn were found during the summer as divers surveyed the coastline. In 2011, the blenny was photographed off the Lizard, and the prawn was seen off Babbacombe, the society said. Both species have recently arrived in the UK and have spread along the south coast of England, the society added. Chris Wood, from the Marine Conservation Society, said "They seem to be spreading in suitable habitats along the coast." Both species are found in shallow seas around mainland Europe, but Mr Wood said he was unsure how they arrived off the English coast. "They clearly find the water warm enough to survive, which may not have been the case in the past." Both species were found during the summer months by volunteer divers The society said that the blenny and prawn were first seen in British waters in Dorset. The blenny was first discovered in 1977, and the prawn in 2007, it added. Volunteer divers from the Seasearch programme made the discoveries. The project is co-ordinated by the Marine Conservation Society. *BBC


As the Steve Irwin approached the equator last week, word that Japan would be sending a strengthened whaling fleet to Antarctica next month reached the bridge of the old Aberdeen-built customs vessel. The crew of activists on board cheered, as their veteran leader, Captain Paul Watson, resigned himself to his eighth "whale war" among the icebergs and 100mph winds of the Southern ocean.
Captain Paul Watson gives the Guardian's environment editor John Vidal a tour of the Steve Irwin Link to this audio

Watson, on what is nearly his 350th voyage in nearly 40 years defending whales and other marine wildlife at the helm of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, is sending three ships to intercept, chase and harass the Japanese. He promises "aggressive non-violence", while the Japanese, still smarting from last year's humiliation when their fleet took only a fifth of its planned whale catch, say they will heighten security and take an armed government fisheries patrol vessel.
"We intend to carry out the [whale] research after enhancing measures to assure that the fleet is not obstructed," said fisheries minister, Michihiko Kano.

The two fleets expect to meet in the Antarctic whale sanctuary before Christmas and will shadow and confront each other for at least 12 weeks. Both have helicopters and water cannon. In addition, the Steve Irwin has iron spikes to prevent the Japanese from boarding, and Watson's crew has a store of vile-smelling butyric acid stink bombs to fling aboard any vessel that comes close. Both fleets are expected to wage a media and diplomatic battle, as well as engage in a dangerous physical tussle on the high seas.

But it was Australia, which fired the first diplomatic shots, this week condemning Japan and urging it not to send its fleet. "There is widespread concern in the international community at Japan's whaling programme and widespread calls for it to cease", said foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, this week. Australia last year took Japan to the international court of justice seeking an end to the harpooning which it conducts under a "scientific" loophole.
Read more http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/18/whale-war-japan-antarctica?newsfeed=true

Ed Comment; and that's all the Australian Government will do....just a bit of bluster...the whalers must be laughing their heads off....


The massive log stockpiles at Bridgewater and Leslie Vale (South Tasmania) started to shrink yesterday as the first trucks rolled northward, thanks to a government freight subsidy. There are around 39,000 tonnes of logs in the two stockpiles and in forest landings in the state's South, some of it destined for China but the logs were left stranded by the ongoing impasse over the reopening of the Triabunna woodchip mill. Over coming weeks, the entire stockpile will head north by road for export via Bell Bay, with some of the stockpile going to China as Forestry Tasmania opens up a new market for peeler logs that can't be processed in Tasmania. The leftover logs represent a significant loss of income thanks to the impasse that has dogged the southern Tasmanian timber industry for months since millionaire environmentalists Jan Cameron and Graeme Wood bought Gunns' Triabunna mill.

Without the income from woodchip exports, the industry has lost a valuable source of additional income. One million dollars in government freight subsidies announced this week means around $6 million in income will flow to forest and haulage contractors and their employees up to Christmas. Forestry Tasmanian chief operating officer Mike Farrow says being able to shift the logs was a big boost for the industry. "You can see the extent of the problem we've got here so the announcement by the Government will certainly help," he said. "The Triabunna solution is something we're obviously going to need to look at in the longer term. Right now we're focusing on moving logs. "It will help with cashflows for harvesting contractors, it will help the transport contractors as well, it will deliver an immediate solution. *Mercury

Fraser Island Blasted

An international newspaper with an audience of millions has labelled Fraser Island "a certified no-go zone". Listing deadly dangers that would have Bear Grylls trembling with fear, Britain's Telegraph has claimed the iconic island is home to "one of the worlds most dangerous beaches". The newspapers website, one of the country's most popular with 1.7 million daily readers, fearfully features Fraser on its home page. Headed the "travel editors choice" the page has been tweeted, "liked", and shared by hundreds globally. Detailing six killer reasons to avoid the island, the site warns would-be travellers with this chilling yet amusing account: "The seas surrounding Fraser Island, to the south-east of Queensland, are a certified no-go zone. "That is unless you mind swimming with sharks, saltwater crocodiles and box jellyfish, while battling strong rip currents. "Head inland and you're likely to bump into some of the world's deadliest spiders, as well as dingoes, which are known to occasionally attack humans."

Ever proud of our World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, The Chronicle would like to allay fears any concerned Cornwallians, terrified Tottenhamites or looting Londoners may have. We welcome all international visitors with open arms, particularly pasty-white, long-suffering Poms. To ensure our forbears survive their stay we offer the following timely tips: If you leave snakes, spiders and dingoes alone, they will return the favour. The last crocodile to be seen on Fraser Island was of the plastic, blow-up variety. As for sharks, stingers and rips, swim in patrolled areas, under the watchful eye of a bronzed, chiselled guard and all will be fine. Those planning a trip to England and similarly concerned about personal safety may want to consider the following travel alert: "The land that makes up England, to the west of continental Europe, is a certified no-go zone. "That is unless you like crowded, dirty cities, drinking warm beer, or battling rioters on the High Street. "Head inland and you're likely to sample some of the world's most miserable food, weather that is even worse, and whinging and whining like you would not believe." *Fraser Cost Chronicle


A South West (WA) woman who was mauled by a kangaroo has described her survival as a miracle. Janet Karson, of Deanmill near Manjimup, suffered multiple cuts to her neck, ears and back when she was attacked while walking her dogs in bush off Muir Highway near Kunandra Road on Saturday. She needed more than 20 stitches to her ears and was told that had she been in Perth, she might have undergone plastic surgery. "I decided to take my three dogs for a walk as it was a lovely day - at least it was to start with," Ms Karson said. "I went off the main track and suddenly this big kangaroo jumped out from nowhere and one of my dogs chased after it. "I could hear her barking and then it stopped so I thought she must be in trouble and I ran after her." Ms Karson said her blue heeler was being bear-hugged by the kangaroo when she arrived at the scene behind her other dogs. She went to rescue her pet and that's when the kangaroo attacked. "I used a stick to lever its claws off my dog and then it reared up in front of me - it was huge. All I can remember is its claws going to work on me and the smell of my own blood when my head fell on to its chest. "I thought, 'That's it, I'm finished'. It all happened so quickly, it was over in a few seconds. "Either the dogs fought it off or I was lucky, but it just hopped off. I honestly believe it's a miracle I'm alive." Ms Karson said that despite her horrific injuries, her first thought was for her animals so she staggered back to her vehicle and drove home to tend to them. It was not until a friend came to her house shortly afterwards that she agreed to go to hospital. "I don't have any hard feelings for the roo. Maybe it was a female protecting her joey," she said. *WA News

Gladstone Harbor Pollution

The mystery of the Gladstone fish disease outbreak continues, with scientists focusing on a parasitic flatworm and about 300 tonnes of barramundi that spilled into the Boyne River last summer from Awoonga Dam. Many of these fish have since become infested with the common saltwater parasite. The Gladstone Area Water Board estimated 30,000 barramundi of about a metre in length were swept over Awoonga's 25m wall from December to March after flood rains. This has seen an enormous spike in Gladstone's commercial barra catch, with fishermen selling 18 times the annual average take. Queensland Fisheries scientist John Robertson said yesterday the fish would have become stressed and susceptible to diseases and parasites after being hammered by the drop, having scales ripped off and shocked by rapid changes in conditions.

This was then exacerbated by crowded conditions in the Boyne River and a lack of food. Fishermen have had to dump up to 80 per cent of barramundi catches over past weeks because of disease and discolourations. They believe the disease problem is more likely to be related to a 46 million cubic metre harbour dredging program sullying the water. The Gladstone Ports Corporation argues previous, and far more significant, harbour dredging, has happened in past years without the impacts being blamed on the 1,316,234cu m dredged so far this year. Dr Robertson said red spot disease remained a factor and had been identified at nearby Port Alma, but he suspected parasite infestation might be severe.

Biosecurity Queensland was trying to determine the parasite's level of impact and if it occurred in other species. "We're not ruling anything out (including dredging impacts)," Dr Robertson said. "We think animals might be getting itchy with the parasite and trying to rub themselves, which opens up the skin (causing red rash-like marks and opening up a pathway for bacteria). Further testing will verify that." In Canberra yesterday, federal Environment Department assessment and compliance division acting secretary Mary Colreavy told a Senate hearing that dredging was not contributing to fish deaths. Queensland Nationals senator Ron Boswell repeatedly asked Ms Colreavy what her agency was doing to determine whether the two million cubic feet of dredging in the harbour was causing the problems.

She replied that State Government and other data had shown little change in water quality. "It's just miraculous we happen to dredge and the fish happen to die, and it all happens at the one time," Senator Boswell said. As of August 30, 185 tonnes of barramundi had been caught at Gladstone, a major increase on the harbour's annual catch of 9.8 tonnes. *Courier Mail

Ed Comment; We have been twice to Gladstone in the last couple of weeks, and its a dump! A huge area of vegetation on the lower end of Curtis Island, which has long been proposed as National Park, has been scoured and bulldozed away for the CSG processing plant to be built there. The air is bad, the harbor pollution is a disgrace, and noone believes the rubbish spouted by the Government agencies that everything in the Harbor is fine.There will be another coal loading Port built at Balclave Island, a Coal Terminal Project in Raglan Creek, and future Coal Ports on the Northern end of Curtis Island...which is another proposed National Park area again. It's just a nightmare of incredibly unsustainable development, in a very sensitive and valuable marine and terrestrial wildlife habitat area. And just in case thats not enough, the disgustingly dirty shale oil project that was sunk by Greenpeace and other local groups 10 years ago, is now back on the drawing board! Time to find another Planet perhaps......

Poisonous Cull Backfires

More than 2000 birds have died on Macquarie Island since the federal government began a scheme to cull rabbits, cats, rats and mice. The Federal Environment Department's heritage and wildlife division told a Senate estimates hearing today that 2190 birds had died since the eradication program began last year. Department officials said the birds had died after feeding off the corpses of poisoned animals and not from eating the pellets themselves. Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz asked if the 110 dead ducks had fed off corpses or whether it was more likely they had fed off the 305 tonnes of poison bait on the island, which lies between Tasmania and Antarctica in the Southern Ocean.

An assistant secretary for the division Theo Hooy agreed the ducks would not have fed off corpses. "I can't confirm whether or not that the ingestion by the ducks had been anticipated," he said. "I do know that there was concern about ingestion of bait by albatross chicks." However, Senator Abetz said no albatrosses were listed among the 2190 deaths. "This is a complete debacle which just goes from bad to worse," he said after the hearing. "The collateral damage seems worse than the problem the government was seeking to eradicate. "The real number of deaths was much higher because while 2190 bird carcasses had been discovered on Macquarie Island more had probably died at sea, Senator Abetz said.

Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings said the pest eradication effort was worthwhile. "Nobody wants to see wildlife hurt or damaged by programs," she told reporters in Hobart. "However, what is Eric Abetz’s alternative? Those same birds were being threatened by destruction of the natural habitat on Macquarie Island because of rabbits grazing." Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said in a statement that the bird deaths were inevitable. "When you do baiting, the fact is you will lose some of the birds you are wanting to protect," he said. "But if you don't do baiting, feral animals like rabbits and rodents will keep wiping everything out."

On the plus side, rabbit numbers are believed to have dropped from a whopping 150,000 to less than 30 since the program was implemented. Mr Burke said the impact on fauna were continually monitored, adding he had moved to tighten the program's regulations in November. He said up to 24 bird species ultimately stood to benefit from the eradication program. *AAP