Monday, July 23, 2012

Wildlife Bytes 24/7/12


Closely following on the Queensland Government's statement that they intend to allow logging and grazing in some National Parks, the NSW government is having meetings with rural landholders in NSW to gather political support to appeal the Native Vegetation Act.  The latest forum was the 26th in a series of similar sessions across the state. Within minutes of the meeting starting, the 70 landholders present voted unanimously to support a motion calling for the Native Vegetation Act to be repealed.  So where does the winding down of environment protection laws stop, we wonder? Further down in this edition of Wildlfie Bytes, there is an article about the National Parks shooting by the Invasive Species Council. They also seem to have lost the plot on feral (or more accurately described as misplaced introduced animals) animal control. Current exotic animal controls are almost useless. Large sums of money are spent on dropping poison, funding helicopter shooting, and trapping, and yet we now have more misplaced introduced animals than ever before. Surely its time to get serious and spend more funds on research to develop humane and effective eradication programs in and around our National Parks, and not just bandaid poison, trapping and shooting programs that can't even hold their own against the tide of high reproduction processes of misplaced exotic introduced animals. *

Climate Change

A couple of weeks ago the north-eastern US was in the grip of a severe heat wave. As I write this, however, it's a fairly cool day in New Jersey, considering that it's late July. Weather is like that; it fluctuates. And this banal observation may be what dooms us to climate catastrophe, in two ways. On one side, the variability of temperatures from day to day and year to year makes it easy to miss, ignore or obscure the longer-term upward trend. On the other, even a fairly modest rise in average temperatures translates into a much higher frequency of extreme events — like the devastating drought now gripping America's heartland — that do vast damage. On the first point: Even with the best will in the world, it would be hard for most people to stay focussed on the big picture in the face of short-run fluctuations. When the mercury is high and the crops are withering, everyone talks about it, and some make the connection to global warming. But let the days grow a bit cooler and the rains fall, and inevitably people's attention turns to other matters. But let's hope that this time is different. For large-scale damage from climate change is no longer a disaster waiting to happen. It's happening now.......

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Fraser Island Burns

Fraser Coast residents should not be concerned about smoke that will begin billowing from Fraser Island tomorrow.  The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service conduct planned burns on Fraser Island, Great Sandy National Park from Friday and will continue for the next two weeks as part of the annual hazard reduction/conservation management program for parks and forests. As a result, smoke may be seen in the areas surrounding Orchid Beach and Waddy Point on Fraser Island. The aim of this low-intensity burn is to reduce the volume of forest fuels and to create a mosaic pattern of burnt and unburnt areas within the park. A QPWS spokesperson said the planned burns would help reduce the intensity of wildfires and provide favourable conditions for natural forest regeneration. For more information, please call Dundubara office of QPWS on 4127 9138. Fraser Coast Chronicle

Ed Comment; Perhaps we were a bit premature in hoping QPWS environmental management of Fraser Island would improve under the new LNP Government?

Wildlife Crime

A conservation group ranked Vietnam the worst country for wildlife crime Monday in its first-ever report on how well 23 Asian and African countries protect rhinos, tigers and elephants.
WWF said Vietnam's tiger farms and its citizens' voracious appetite for rhino horn as a supposed cure-all helped put it at the top of the list. Neighboring China, widely viewed as the world's largest market for illegal wildlife products, finished a close second, and Laos was third. The Switzerland-based WWF focused its report on countries where the threatened animals live in the wild or are traded or consumed. Many consumers in Asia demand illegal wildlife products for their purported, if unproven, medicinal properties. The Washington D.C.-based Brookings Institution has said the illegal wildlife trade is worth an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion per year in Southeast Asia alone.
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The Territory's top croc catcher has blamed saltie trophy killings on southern tourists who head north to go fishing at the end of the Wet. Senior wildlife ranger Tom Nichols said: "We have the same problem at the end of every wet season. "More people go fishing and come up from different places and think they can take a trophy back with them. "It's something that's happening every year." He said it was "disappointing" that people continued to slay the protected reptile. Mildura newspaper editor Alan Erskine, of Victoria, was fishing with friends in the Finnis River, near Dundee Beach, when he spotted a 5m headless croc on the bank last week. * NTNews


Thousands of kilometres of ocean may separate Tonga's many volcanoes and Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef, but researchers have found an interesting connection.  The unexpected connection is pumice, a lightweight, frothy rock that forms when molten lava cools rapidly in the air or ocean, explained geologist Dr Scott Bryan from the Queensland University of Technology.  The eruption of Tonga's Home Reef volcano in 2006, for example, left billions of pieces of pumice floating on the ocean, initially covering an area of at least 440 square kilometres.  Bryan and colleagues traced these pieces of pumice as they were swept by ocean currents toward North-eastern Australia, via Fiji and other Pacific island nations. Their findings appear this week in the journal PLoS One. "The pumice we observed travelled more than 5000 kilometres in eight months, and for the first time we were able to document the more than 80 species of plant and animal life that made the journey with it," he said. The researchers looked in detail at more than 5000 pieces of pumice that washed up along the length of the Great Barrier Reef and the coastline of Australia from Lizard Island in far north Queensland to Ballina, New South Wales  "Every piece of that pumice had organisms on it," Bryan said. Those organisms included corals, coralline algae and other species that help build coral reefs. They also included oysters, barnacles, snails and sponges.
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Australia has used the decision by South Korea to abandon plans for scientific whaling to raise pressure on Japan to follow suit. Reports in Seoul today confirmed the South Korean plan had been scrapped. Blame was heaped on the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for pushing ahead with the proposal without first seeking a consensus from other ministries. The Australian Environment Minister, Tony Burke, said Japan should note that there was no loss of faith in South Korea for making the decision. "It is simply greeted with international appreciation and respect,” Mr Burke said. Foreign Minister Bob Carr said South Korea has confirmed its reputation as a country seriously committed to the highest environmental standards. “It's nice to see a friend and partner won't be pursuing whaling," Senator Carr said. The government confirmed that it was fully committed to the case against Japan's Antarctic "scientific whaling" at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The next stage of the case will be an oral hearing likely in the second half of next year.
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A teenager says a dingo tried to drag her from her parents' campsite near Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. Rebecca Robinson, 13, awoke on Sunday at the Aurora Kakadu Lodge in Jabiru to find the dingo was dragging her sleeping bag. "I could feel someone pulling me. I was not going anywhere but I could feel the sleeping bag getting dragged," she told the NT News. "I woke up and there was a dingo there chewing at my sleeping bag. "It was small, yellowy colour ... I could not see it that much but I saw its face," she said. Her mother Kate Robinson from Victoria told the newspaper her daughter weighed 45 to 50kg. "They (dingoes) are that strong and bold," Ms Robinson said. At an inquest in Darwin earlier this year a coroner formally found that a dingo had killed Azaria Chamberlain, who disappeared from a campsite at Uluru in 1980.
The inquest heard evidence of several dingo attacks that had been recorded over the decades. *YahooNews

Kakadu ranger patrols have shot three wild dogs in a bid to control attacks on tourists after a dingo tried to drag a sleeping teenager. Rebecca Robinson, 13, woke to find the animal ripping at her sleeping bag at Aurora Kakadu Lodge early Sunday morning.  Parks Australia said the hunt would continue to ensure campers' safety.  West Arnhem Shire Council has also been talking to a "professional shooter" about a cull on the outskirts of Jabiru.  Council acting chief Alex Douglas said he expected 10-20 feral dogs to be destroyed. *NT News


Claims of plague level populations of kangaroos in Queensland are exaggerated, say advocates for the species. The Australian kangaroo meat trade is trying to rebuild following a collapse in trade in 2009, when Russia banned imports due to contamination concerns. Rural lobby group AgForce says a surging population of kangaroos, estimated at 20 million, is also placing immense pressure on pastures. Australian Society for Kangaroos president Nikki Sutterby says there's a lot of propaganda and misinformation about kangaroo populations. "These figures are highly suspicious and are not credible," she said. Ecologist Ray Mjadwesch does not support the contention that kangaroo populations are doubling or tripling each year. "This is biologically impossible for kangaroos, you might get the population increasing three to eight per cent a year in a good year," he said. The most influential people in Sport "To double a population like this data shows would take 10 good years of growth, and populations tripling is absurd." Mr Mjadwesch says more than 200 years of human occupation has hurt kangaroo populations. "An example would be a roo hunter around Parramatta bringing in 300 pounds of roo meat a week in 1794," he said. "Now you see no kangaroos at Parramatta." Rural lobby group AgForce this week met with the state and federal governments to discuss ways to manage kangaroo numbers and reinvigorate the kangaroo meat trade. *The Australian, Courier Mail, SkyNews

State Leader of Katter's Australian Party, Rob Katter, has thrown his support behind the kangaroo meat industry. Mr Katter says that the industry could easily become a large export earner for Australia if state and federal governments support it while kangaroo numbers are in plague proportions. "Surely it makes more commercial sense to throw a bit of government support behind the existing industry rather than set up non-profitable and expensive government eradication programs," Mr Katter said. "The kangaroo industry is struggling due to the loss of the Russian export market and it needs assistance. "We also need to look at new markets, both overseas and in Australia. "Regulatory costs are also of concern as licensing and registration fees hurt producers. "At a time when Australia has plague proportions of kangaroos it seems like an ideal time to reinvigorate the kangaroo meat industry." *MySunshineCoast

Russian bans of Kangaroo Meat to Stay!  Negotiations between the Rosselkhoznadzor and the Wildlife Protection Association of Australia, translated from the Russian Government Media release.

The negotiations were held at the initiative of the Australian party that has concerns on sanitary and hygiene state of kangaroo meat placed on the domestic market in Australia and offered for export as well as serious acts of cruelty against kangaroos killed for meat. The Rosselkhoznadzor was given the results of the laboratory monitoring of kangaroo meat in Australian retail networks demonstrating significantly high level (up to 30%) of bacterial contamination of kangaroo meat (predominantly, Coliforms and Salmonella). Therewith, mutton marketed in the same retail networks was safe.

According to the Association, the high bacterial contamination of kangaroo meat is associated with its harvesting conditions. The animals are shot and eviscerated at high ambient air temperatures, up to 350C, and hundred kilometers from the nearest cold storages. The carcasses contaminated with feces during their cutting are chilled and stored at up to 7°C for 14 days after their transportation to the industrial cold storages. According to the Association data, and said conditions providing no guarantees on safety of kangaroo meat put in temporary storage are systemically violated. Usage of mobile abattoirs as practiced for harvesting local animal meat in the South Africa would improve the situation on safety of the harvested kangaroo meat.

The Rosselkhoznadzor’s representative noted that the information provided by the Association on viral disease-associated mass mortality that sporadically occurred in the kangaroo population was of particular concern. The infection vectors are blood-sucking insects and the disease is characterized with severe neurological lesions, blindness and mortality of the considerable part of affected animals. As previously reported, the meeting of Russian and Australian virologists devoted to the cooperation in investigation of orthobynyaviruses endemic in Australia was held at the Rosselkhoznadzor office last week.

In 2008 the Rosselkhoznadzor imposed temporary restrictions on export of products from five Australian establishments out of 10 establishments authorized for export to Russia due to the detection of Coliforms and Salmonella in kangaroo meat during monitoring testings for safety. In 2009 the Rosselkhoznadzor concluded that current kangaroo meat production system in Australia failed to guarantee its safety from pathogenic microorganism contamination after the inspection of Australian kangaroo meat producing establishments and imposed temporary restrictions on import of kangaroo meat to Russia from all Australian establishments from August 1, 2009.

According to the Association estimates, 4 million adult kangaroos and 2 million baby kangaroos escaped from being killed owing to the temporary restrictions imposed by the Rosselkhoznadzor. According to the Association data, baby kangaroos that stay in pouches are beaten to death when their mothers are killed and elder young kangaroos that have been under care of dead mothers run away and then die of exposure or fall the victim of carnivores. *   Rosselkhoznadzor / News, Russian Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance

Climate Change

A chunk of ice twice the size of Manhattan has parted from Greenland’s Petermann glacier, a break researchers at the University of Delaware and Canadian Ice Service attributed to warmer ocean temperatures. The separation along Greenland’s north-west coast on Monday  is the second major calving  for the glacier in  three years. In August 2010 it lost an area of abouty 250 square kilometres, compared with the 120square kilometres that  split off this week. Andreas Muenchow, an associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware, said the glacier’s end point was now at ‘‘a location where it has not been for at least 150 years’’. ‘‘The Greenland ice sheet is changing rapidly before our eyes,’’ Professor Muenchow said. He also said while ‘‘no individual glacier will be the canary in the coalmine’’, recent warming had transformed the overall ice sheet. ‘‘The Greenland ice sheet is being reduced not just in size, but in volume,’’ he said. ‘‘The big and broader climate change story is what’s happening all around Greenland.’’ Ted Scambos, the lead scientist for the National Snow and Ice Data Centre at the University of Colorado, said scientists would  monitor whether the glacier’s flow rate would accelerate ‘‘because of its loss of this chunk’’.   ‘‘It’s going to take a while to understand how significant a loss this is’’. * Age

Much of central Australia is experiencing an unusually frosty winter, the frostiest in more than a decade in some parts and there's much more to come. Alice Springs has chilled to zero-degrees or below 24 times this winter so far, 12 times more than the winter average, Brett Dutschke of Weatherzone reports. This is the highest number since 2002, when there were 36. Leigh Creek, in South Australia's far north, has dipped to zero or below 10 times so far, the most in at least 30 years. This beats the previous winter record of nine, set in 1997. A similar story can be told for much of the outback due to very dry air and dominant high pressure systems over the region. The highs have been generating mostly clear and calm weather for long periods, allowing it to get cold on many nights and mornings. A high pressure system looks like being a feature for at east another week, enabling the development of further frosts almost every morning. This is making life tough for campers and those getting up for work each morning. With more than 40 nights of winter to go there's a chance that Alice Springs will get close to its record of 44 freezing nights, set in 1976. *Sydney Morning Herald


Live sheep exports are being blamed for the recent spate of shark attacks. The Weekly Times reports that The Humane Society International has called on the West Australian Government to look into all aspects of shark behaviour  and the possible connection with the export of live sheep from the port of Fremantle. There have been five fatalities to sharks in WA within the past 10 months, the most recent being an attack on a surfer at Wedge Island, 180km north of Perth. A spokesperson for the animal protection society, Alexia Wellbelove, said  "thousands of dead sheep ... either whole or minced" were being thrown overboard as ships departed ports for the Middle East "without care or consideration for the consequences".
"It is highly likely that the disposal of animal remains in this way will attract large sharks over a wide distance," Ms Wellbelove said. "This attraction of large sharks may have dreadful consequences. HSI is concerned that one of these consequences may be increased incident of shark attacks." The society says it has written to the West Australian and Federal Government with a documented list of shark attacks and presence of live export vessels, urging them to investigate possible links. "This list shows that on a number of occasions, and particularly over the past 10 months, there appears to be a strong connection between shark attacks and the presence of live export vessels in the area," she said. "Anecdotal reports from fishermen suggest that sharks are able to recognise individual vessels, meaning these export vessels will result in a concentration of the shark population when the vessels are present as the sharks seek an 'easy' meal." *

Grazing in National Parks

Cattle are still being commercially grazed on national park land that State Government Minister Steve Dickson said yesterday was under "scientific review" and could be "reopened to grazing". Mr Dickson named four national parks in the Georgetown and Ingham areas which could be reopened to grazing. The Townsville Bulletin has received confirmation that each of these national parks has continued to run cattle on a commercial basis since their acquisition by the government started in 2010. It is understood that the Brock family, which owned Littleton Station in the Georgetown area of the eastern Gulf Country, still lives on the station and runs cattle there despite it being in the process of being acquired by the government. Two other national parks in the Georgetown area, Rungalla and Gilbert River covering 121,000ha, were bought by the government in July last year for $3.2 million. The stations were bought from Charters Towers cattleman and aviation industry identity Wayne Pritchard.

The former cattle station of Wairuna located in the mountainous headwaters of the Burdekin River inland from Ingham was sold to the government by Richmond cattlemen Robert Flute for $7.8 million in 2010. Mr Flute said that he was still being allowed to run cattle on Wairuna because of the extensive damage inflicted on the property by Cyclone Yasi in February 2011.  "All the fences are down including the boundary fence between Wairuna and Princess Hills (part of the Girringun National Park) and there's timber down everywhere," he said. Mr Flute said 77,690ha Wairuna could run 10,000 head of cattle. Mr Flute said he would be interested in extending the cattle lease over Wairuna if the government went ahead with its plan to open parks up to cattle. Mr Pritchard, who is still running 1000 head of cattle on Rungalla and Gilbert River, said his lease would come to an end next year, but added he would be interested in an extension if the government's report came down in favour of cattle in parks.

Both Mr Pritchard and Mr Flute said the State Government should consider opening more of its remote and rarely visited parks to cattle. "It would be a good idea to allow cattle to run in national parks in remote areas," Mr Flute said. "Too often you see these parks locked up and they become overrun with feral plants and animals." He said the government did not have the staff to manage big parks in remote areas. *Townsville Buletin

Hunting in National Parks

Animal welfare groups say hunters are behind a mysterious campaign to stop the poisoning of feral deer and goats in national parks - because it will only reduce the number of animals they can shoot. Groups including the RSPCA believe interests connected to the state-funded Game Council issued a pamphlet calling the government's ''horror trial'' of cyanide poisoning a ''welfare disaster'' for deer. But, far from caring about the feral animals, the hunters want to preserve as many live targets as possible now that national parks will be opened to shooters, the groups claim. The Game Council has denied any knowledge of the pamphlet's origins. No group has put its name to the flyer, which shows a poisoned deer dead on the ground. But Animals Australia said it was ''reprehensible'' that a quote, taken out of context from a section of its website unrelated to deer, had been used in the leaflet.

In a letter to the Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, on July 2, Animals Australia's executive director, Glenys Oogjes, said: ''Our own views could not be further apart from those of this group of pro-hunting organisations. This attempt at alignment with Animals Australia is merely a reprehensible attempt to suggest their own recreation hunting methods are humane. Please disregard this reference to Animals Australia.'' Seventy-nine national parks have been opened to hunters in a deal between the O'Farrell government and the balance-of-power Shooters and Fishers Party. But the pamphlet urges people to write to Ms Parker to stop the cyanide trial, begun by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service after extensive scientific research into humane and cost-effective control of feral animals. The research is endorsed by the Animal Ethics Committee whose members include the RSPCA.

The pamphlet states: ''NPWS cruelty will destroy [deer] mothers leaving many grieving offspring behind to a slow and painful death. The welfare of deer do not matter to the political interests of the extreme Green lobby. NPWS is responsible for the welfare of these sentient animals which will suffer horrendous deaths.'' An RSPCA spokesman said: ''The pamphlet is a deliberate attempt to bolster support for recreational hunting of deer. Hunters are opposed to all other deer management methods as they regard deer as a game species. Unfortunately this ignores the environmental impacts of deer and the need to develop humane target-specific methods to control deer.''

A Game Council spokesman said: "Game Council has no knowledge of, or connection with, this flyer. The council provides game hunting licences which enables conservation hunting to take place in removing game and feral animals from public land. It is not Game Council's role to comment on the effectiveness of other control methods for game and feral animals." The Greens environment spokeswoman, Cate Faerhmann, said it was clear Ms Parker and the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, were under pressure from hunters for more concessions. ''If the Game Council and its political arm, the Shooters Party, get their way, deer populations will spread, putting delicate ecosystems at further risk … Animal welfare groups know that the trial is an attempt to find a more humane solution to pest deer

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Let there be no doubt. The plan to allow 15,000 amateur hunters into NSW national parks is not motivated by good environmental policy.At a superficial level, an offer to allow access to our national parks for volunteer hunters keen to shoot deer, goats, pigs and other feral animals sounds irresistible. Yet the evidence shows that a program of hunters controlled by the Game Council will provide no environmental benefit, likely lead to environmental harm, and place at serious risk the public's enjoyment and safety. The Game Council was set up in 2002 after an earlier political deal between the Labor Government and the Shooters Party. It is a highly unusual arrangement for a statutory authority. The board must have a majority of hunters, ensuring that decisions never get made against hunters' interests. Government funds this sporting body to licence recreational hunters on public and private land. At the last minute, the enabling legislation was renamed the Game and Feral Animal Control Act, the last three words tacked on to deceptively dress up the arrangement as a public good. National parks at that time were spared.

Despite their success, the Shooters Party did not let up on their campaign to get access to national parks. Once the Game Council was set up and it registered hunters to roam public lands with rifles, cross-bows, antique muzzle-loaders, and hunting dogs, it tallied seemingly impressive body counts of feral animals killed: 27,099 rabbits, 5,100 foxes, 9,341 goats, and 7,988 pigs were shot on state forests in a five-year period. But feral animal control is not about carcass numbers. It is about targeted programs that reduce local feral populations by more than 50-90 per cent in a short period, stopping ferals spreading and using the most effective methods. That is why park managers usually don't shoot foxes; poisoning and trapping are more effective. It is why there is concerted effort around habitats of animals like the endangered brush-tailed rock wallaby to remove goats.

It is why shooting 27,000 rabbits over five years will have little effect on a population measured in millions. If the Game Council's 10-year 'control program' was reviewed by biologists, it would be revealed as a sham. Deer hunting is a good example of how hunters assist the spread of a serious pest. Hunters are widely known to move deer (and pigs) to new pest-free areas for future hunting, and a few have been caught in the act. They mostly target the males with antlers, leaving females to breed. Hunters are not effective or systematic at controlling deer, focusing on the most accessible areas where hunting is easy, leaving deer in more remote or rugged areas to breed up and spread.  The danger is that by allowing hunters into national parks pretending that this is pest control draws resources away from legitimate feral animal control programs. Wary animals such as deer, goats and pigs become harder to approach in ranger run programs.

In Australia and New Zealand, there are numerous examples of hunters opposing effective cull programs that threaten their feral 'game'. In NSW, the Game Council actively lobbied against listing deer as a 'key threatening process' under environmental laws. If a landholder wants a recreational shooter or contractor to control deer on their land, a Game Council licence would still be needed and they are not permitted to use the most effective method - shooting at night with spotlights. We are at a turning point in the control of feral animals in NSW. We can either pretend to do something by handing the job to hunters who will help feral animals expand, losing at the same time that feeling of safety and peacefulness we cherish in a national park. Or we can focus on science-based programs and use the most effective and humane methods of stopping the spread of feral animals across all lands - which may sometimes include the managed use of volunteer shooters.

Any decision to permit people with loaded guns into our national parks must require compelling benefits that outweigh the risks. The Invasive Species Council wants to see fewer feral animals in our parks and is not philosophically opposed to shooting to achieve this. The serious problem is that the deal between the Shooters Party and the O'Farrell Government involving the Game Council offers no benefits and excessive risks. O'Farrell's decision to support the Shooters Party's enabling Bill in Parliament in June locks in this retrograde direction. Feral animals are one of the greatest threats to our wildlife and our national parks. Putting recreational hunters in charge will only make it worse.

Andrew Cox is president of the Invasive Species Council, a national community organisation that seeks better laws and policies to protect the Australian environment from weeds, feral animals and exotic pathogens. Andrew was Executive Officer of the National Parks Association of NSW when the Game Council was established in 2002. *ABC, The Drum