The Australian Animal Welfare Strategy has asked the University of Sydney to conduct aworking dog survey. Completing the survey will take less than 10 minutes and the information will be helpful for guiding animal welfare policies. The survey is open to 1 September 2009.
Humane treatment of animals is at the top of our list in doing any feral animal control, and of course it is one of the most controversial areas associated with invasive animal management. Our Cooperative Research Centre takes the view that we will not engage in research and development where the outcome is likely to be poorer welfare for animals. These are of course subjective and some people object passionately to any culling of animals and don't agree with the construct of an "invasive" or "feral" animal.
Next week, I am presenting a few sessions at the Minding Animals meeting in Newcastle, NSW. It's going to be a very different type of meeting for me - it's a transdisciplinary meeting where all aspects of human-animal relationships are under examination. Some people in the audience will view "feral animals" as "unhomed non-human animals" and disagree, probably passionately, with how we deal with them. Nevertheless, I think it is important to hear the spectrum of views. Our attitudes and practices have definitely changed over time, not only to "feral" animals, but to all our interactions with animals. The Australian Government's Animal Welfare Strategy has provided a good platform for the various groups with interests in animal welfare to discuss these issues.
The Guardianran a story over the weekend on Australia's hatred of the Indian myna. Only a few days earlier The Times of Indiaran a story that Indian mynas were becoming displaced in New Delhi by the common rock pigeon. The Guardian's story talked about the complex relationship Australian's have with our wildlife, quoting a dingo preservationist as saying "Australia has a powerful rural lobby and when animals get in the way, we kill them". I think it's reasonable to say that most societies have complex relationships with their wildlife. Even many Britons exhibit peristerophobia, an unreasonable fear or hatred of pigeons, that is evident in a 2007 campaign by the London Lord Mayor to stop pigeon-feeding in Trafalgar Square.
The Brisbane Courier Mailis reporting that an 89-year old man in a nursing home was left bleeding and suffering from a mouse attack. Plague mice were getting all over him and he was unable to get them off. The man's family are naturally horrified and Queensland Health Authorites are making urgent investigations.
Mice plagues can be absolutely horrifying, but this seems beyond belief. I hope authorities act quickly and get this nursing home to clean up its act.
With an animal-mad 10-year old son, my family and I took the opportunity to visit Australia Zoo north of Brisbane, ahead of the International Animal Welfare meeting on the Gold Coast. We were all incredibly impressed.
Australia Zoo is of course "home of the Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin who passed away two years ago. It is continuing to expand at an extraordinary pace. The whole experience was brilliant, but a few things stood out:
Australia Zoo aims to promote conservation through "exciting education". That means close, hands on experience with the animals where possible. It is also the area where many wildlife people and conservationists express reservations about the Irwin style - many people feel the handling of the wildlife in the Crocodile Hunter series to go over the top. This visit convinced me that there is a heck of a lot of merit in the Irwin approach. Kids and adults alike are absolutely captivated by the keeper talks and the animal shows. The signage and display designs are as good as I've seen (and I was at San Diego Zoo earlier this year) and did fulfil the goal of "exciting education".
The Keepers and in fact all staff, are extraordinary. I don't know if their attitude and enthusiasm flows from Steve and Terri Irwin's passion - whatever Australia Zoo is doing, it is working. We thought the positive attitude seemed to come through in the animals, and after attending the various sessions at the International Animal Welfare Conference afterwards, I'm convinced that's true.
The grounds are incredibly clean and neat. The rainforest walk-through aviary would be a world-class showpiece simply for its gardens, let alone the bird life. Even though the Zoo is expanding, there was no construction interfering with current displays. The investment going into the place must be massive (no small task given it is an entirely privately funded Zoo).
The Irwins have a very strong view against native animal harvesting. That view is in contrast to many conservationists who see kangaroo and crocodile harvesting as a positive for the environment. There are strong arguments that kangaroo harvesting can reduce the carbon footprint and impact on soils if it replaces sheep or cattle farming. Certainly my 10-year old Sam quickly formed the opinion that the Irwins were on the right side of the argument: earlier this year he visited a commercial crocodile farm near Darwin and came away thinking the farming was simply too intensive, given the obvious injuries some of the animals were carrying. He much preferred the maximum two to a pen at Australia Zoo.
Finally, I was encouraged by the display and talks on feral animals. The camel and red fox information was completely correct, interesting and given in a manner sympathetic to the individual animals and balanced with the environmental consequences.
I thoroughly recommend a day (two would be better) at Australia Zoo. Even if you are cynical about Steve Irwin's presentation of wildlife, or the Irwin's views on some aspects of conservation, park those concerns for a day and see for yourself the amazing promotion of conservation going on up there.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy continues to amaze everyone. They announced in the last couple of days that they've purchased Marion Downs in the Kimberly, next to their Mornington Sanctuary. A couple of weeks ago, AWC's founder Martin Copley was listed as one of Australia's "most inspiring" by a national paper and a couple of years ago the organisation won the Prime Minister's Environmentalist of the Year Prize.
So what's the secret of this private conservation group?
Last week, I was privileged to tour their Scotia Sanctuary in far west New South Wales and get a peak into the group. (Better declare a conflict on interest - AWC's Chief Executive Atticus Fleming is on my Board). It was immediately apparent to me that AWC has some fantastic things going for it:
Committed staff that are knowledgeable and feel part of something important. I'm not sure who selects AWC staff, but they shouldn't change a thing. Pest Animal Control Officer at Scotia, Tony Cathcart addressed my Board and is one of those guys with a rare combination of field skills (we got a brilliant account of the 187 traps days to get the last cat on Scotia), record keeping, scientific knowledge and an ability to relate the whole package to others.
A business approach to wildlife. I'm not sure that I'm describing things correctly but the largely business-skilled Board at AWC obviously requires high levels of monitoring and performance review. The measurement of performance goes past what is normally possible on public lands. But the business model is a not-for-profit one (Scotia and a few of the other Sanctuaries were bought after the collapse of the for-profit Earth Sanctuaries) - so it is business-like with a view to costs and performance but with the purpose of conserving wildlife, not making money.
Good sanctuary selection. AWC has gone for large sanctuaries, usually in fairly good condition on purchase and usually with key species for conservation. Many of their sanctuaries link national parks.
I got to see my first Bilbie's in the wild, as well as boodies (Burrowing Bettong) and mala (Rufous hare-wallaby). I missed seeing the woylies (Brush-tailed Bettongs) and only saw the nest of the Stick-Nest rat, which was surprisingly large. As horrible as it sounds, I can understand an exhausted explorer or drover being grateful to find a stick-nest at the end of the day and building a fire on it - it really looks like someone has got the kindling together.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy is funded by private donations. Having visited and seen their work first-hand, I feel terrific about my small monthly donation. Scotia is not open for public visits, but some of AWC's other sanctuaries are - see their website www.awc.org.au/
Returning from a fantastic week on Lord Howe Island, it was a no-brainer to cover rats on last week's radio spot. A debate is raging on the island about the planned eradication of rats in 2010 and local artist Ginny Retmock had produced some 'ratbags' for the community market. I bought a few for giveaways but hadn't thought much about the term 'ratbag'.
Presenter Andrea Close asked listeners about the origin of the term, and we decided listener Joyce was probably right in saying it was associated with wanting to keep away from rat catchers who carried a 'rat bag'. However, a bit of searching since reveals the origin might not be that clear cut. Most web dictionaries indicate the term as a common Australian one for a larikin; a non-offensive term for someone. But in use in other parts of the world it seems the term can be for nosey older women or for causing damage ("I got drunk and ratbagged the place"). I couldn't find any historical reference for the term originating from the plague or rat catchers or the like.
Don't let me give the impression Lord Howe is overrun with rats. They are problem for biodiversity, the kentia palm industry and some locals, but tourists would normally not know they were there. It's just my particular interest...
Bilbies have become an iconic image representing many threatened species in Australia. The long-eared bandicoot used to range over 70% of the country but land clearing, foxes and feral cats have caused a massive reduction in its numbers and range.
However, others use the image without providing any known support to threatened species protection or research. I understand they avoid the Trademark issue by selling their products as Chocolate Bilbies (within their Easter range by not actually "Easter Bilbies") and by simply being too big for a group like Rabbit Free Australia to take on.
So when you buy your Easter Bilbies this year, check the packaging and make sure you support the companies that support threatened species. You'll feel less guilty eating the chocolate that way.
The Chinese Year of the Rat, the first in the lunar cycle, begins 7 February. Rats are arguably the most damaging invasive animal, doing massive damage to crops and biodiversity and carrying many zoonotic diseases. Most famously they are associated with the pandemics of bubonic plague, responsible for wiping out maybe a third of the population on Europe in the Middle Ages.
By my reckoning nine of the 12 Chinese horoscope animals are feral somewhere. What do you think?
Rat: ricefield rats in South East Asia eat the equivalent of the caloric intake of Indonesia every year!
Ox: regeneration of native trees in Hawaii can be completely stopped by feral cattle.
Tiger: I don't know of any feral tiger reports - never a species we think of as overabundant.
The five kilometre fence in the heart of Sydney erected for security purposes during the APEC Summit is hardly innovative. The media and public might have adopted the term 'feral fence' for the construction, but 'feral fences' are a long-standing part of the Australian landscape.
The 'dog' or 'dingo' barrier fence that runs from Ceduna in South Australia to outside Surfer's Paradise in Queensland is reasonably well known and the Phil Noyce's 2002 film Rabbit-Proof Fence brought the State Barrier Fence of Western Australia to international attention. Most people I speak to tend to think of the pest animal fences as things of the past but they remain actively maintained at significant cost and in fact there are proposals afoot for more. The Western Australian Pastoralist and Grazier's Association has advocated for a $30 million dog fence across outback WA and there is even a small trial of a cane toad fence at Gregory's Tree in the Northern Territory (pictured).
Fences do still play an important role in feral animal management in Australia. One increasing role is the use of fences on private santuaries to protect species that are vulnerable to feral animal attack.
Join our discussion on the fences that make the so called 'feral fence" at APEC look like a stroll in the park after the 10.00 news on ABC 666 Canberra Mornings with Alex Sloan 5 September.
A recent seminar hosted by the Invasive Animals CRC on advances in cane toad research sparked a frenzy of media attention. Pestat Pty Ltd, one of the CRC's participant companies revealed development of a lethal spray - HopStop - which they are seeking to register for household use. Sydney Uni's Rick Shine revealed latest research on a lungworm, Rhabdias, that debilitates cane toads and might be useful for slowing down their advance across the Top End. Queensland Uni's Rob Capon explained how his lab is unravelling the chemical ecology of the toad, trying to find chinks in its armour. Collaboration between these two universities is leading to the unravelling of an alarm pheromone emitted by distressed cane toad tadpoles.