Domestic Cat Purrr-ticipants Receive Results

The introduction of cats to Australia is considered to be one of the most significant conservation issues in Australia. Cats will often hunt wildlife through instinct, even if their dietary needs are being met. While they have been known to feed on invasive mammals such as mice and rabbits, they also prey on native wildlife. At a local scale, there are currently 12 threatened native species, for which cats are listed as a threatening process. Land for Wildlife is working with domestic cat owners in central Australia to address responsible cat ownership, a key objective of the threat abatement plan for predation by feral cats.

Despite the staggering statistics, there is a great deal of variation in the behaviour of cats (which comes down to differences in management) and the perception of cat owners regarding their cat’s behaviour. Management of owned cats can be varied, ranging from well-cared for individuals that are maintained indoors, to outdoor cats that do not stray from home, and at the extreme scale to roaming cats that may have a negative impact on their surroundings. Poorly managed domestic cats can have a negative impact on wildlife populations through predation, add to the feral cat population, become a nuisance to neighbours, have an increased risk of catching or transmitting disease, or suffer injury as a result of roaming behaviours.

A recent survey conducted by the Alice Springs Town Council, found that over a third of cat owners allow their cats to roam, which indicates that there are a significant number of cats roaming within the Alice Springs municipality. The Alice Springs Town Council by-laws state that a domestic cat must be registered with the council, and that a cat must be kept within the property boundary at all times of the day. Despite the high number of roaming cats in Alice Springs, most of the general public care about the issue of predation by cats on native wildlife. This gives hope that the management of domestic cats can be modified with some education regarding the local bi-laws, the impact of domestic cats on local wildlife and the extent to which an individual cat can roam.

The Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness in Alice Springs program was established to engage domestic cat owners regarding the travelling patterns of their feline friends, to help them to make informed and responsible cat management decisions. We conducted a range of activities, including surveys conducted by domestic cat owners to ascertain their management priorities, GPS-tracking of domestic cats to assess the movements of domestic cats while roaming outside of the house and develop spatial maps for engaging with domestic cat owners, video surveillance of domestic cats to obtain visual footage of the travelling behaviour of roaming cats, and scat analysis to identify the diet of cats that roam outside of the house.

A total of 15 cats and their owners took part in the latest round of Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness, with only a half of the Alice Springs cats being registered with the town council. While all cats included in the study are known to roam away from home, three quarters of the owners agreed that their pet cat could be impacting wildlife while outside.

TeeGee sporting an Eyenimal cat camera and a CatLog GPS-tracker (Image S. Barnes).

CatLog (CatTraQ) devices were used to track the domestic cats for a one-week period. The data obtained was used to develop spatial maps and calculate core home ranges of the domestic cats. According to the trackers, cats were recorded outside of the property boundary on 47 % of occasions, with 53 % of the tracked points occurring on the owner’s property. The cats in the tracking project travelled 31 m from home on average, with the furthest distance from home averaging 352 m. One particularly adventurous cat travelled as far as 500 m from home. The average cat did not venture further from home at night, compared to during the day, which is contrary to popular belief. The area covered by cats during the tracking period was 14 hectares on average (ranging from 3.5 Ha to 27.1 Ha), however the core home range area was 1.4 hectares on average (ranging from 0.2 Ha to 10.8 Ha).

Individual tracks and core home ranges of Possum, a free-ranging Tabby in Alice Springs.

A trial of the Eyenimal Cat Camera was conducted to determine the behaviour of the cats while roaming. Recording video footage of cats while outside of the house helped to highlight what the cat was doing while roaming. The cats involved in the surveillance portion of the project exhibited a range of behaviours, from extensive periods of sleeping, to active roaming in nearby native habitat. Several cats were observed wandering along river beds and neighbouring hillsides, trailing the scent of an animal, or simply exploring. Only one cat was caught on camera feeding on wildlife (a grasshopper). Video summaries for each cat are available on the Land for Wildlife YouTube channel: Domestic Cat Monitoring Stories, or view the playlist below:

To assist us in understanding the impact of predation by cats that are roaming outside, we analysed scats for foreign food items. Food items we were on the lookout for included components of birds, rodents, reptiles and insects. Processed commercial food was expected to break down, while other animals consumed would likely leave portions of bone, scale or fur, which could then be identified. Alice Springs based domestic cat scats contained insect material, Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus) and Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata). The mammal contents were confirmed via hair samples contained in the scats, as well as a fragment of lower mandible (jawbone).

Fragment of lower mandible of a Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata)

Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata). Image Bernard Dupont.

The Dunnart findings are surprising, given that there is very little knowledge regarding the habitat preferences of Fat-tailed Dunnarts close to urban areas. This native animal is commonly found in grass, shrub or woodland in native habitat surrounding Alice Springs. The species is listed as ‘Least Concern’ and is therefore not threatened, despite many other native mammals becoming threatened by introduced predators, such as feral cats. The presence of Dunnarts in town blocks of Alice Springs is great news and the findings indicate that the Dunnart is capable of residing on, or travelling through, suburban town blocks.

The finding that a scat contained remains of Red Kangaroo is not as surprising, given that kangaroos can be found more commonly on the outskirts of Alice Springs. Kangaroo tail is also often brought into town by Indigenous community members returning from hunting trips. The skin and small meat remains of this species can often be found near fire pits following such visits to town. Kangaroos living on the outskirts of town may also succumb to demise through other means, before being fed on by roaming cats.

The domestic cats involved in this study roamed to neighbouring properties, road verges, adjacent bushland and some cats were observed to impact the local wildlife through predation. The results of the study show that even the domestic cats that do not leave their property boundary often, still have the capacity to negatively impact native wildlife. This suggests that the management of the domestic cats could do with improvement. We encourage all domestic cat owners to consider managing their domestic cats in a manner that will protect our native wildlife.

Responsible cat management options include:

  • De-sex your cat to prevent it from adding to the feral cat population
  • Microchip and register your cat with the Alice Springs Town Council so that it can be returned to you if it goes missing
  • Keep your cat indoors so that it is not a nuisance to neighbours and does not negatively impact the local wildlife
  • Install an outdoor cat play area to provide your cat with environmental stimuli that won’t impact on the local wildlife
  • Provide toys and play options for your cat to keep it stimulated indoors
  • Fit your cat with a bell, luminescent scrunchie, sonar or other device to alert wildlife to its presence
  • Provide food ad libitum so that your cat has adequate access to food, to limit its dependence on wildlife as a food source
  • Don’t release unwanted animals into the bush

The full Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness results report can be found on the Land for Wildlife website:  wildlife.lowecol.com.au/about/projects/catmonitoring

This project is supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.

The Impact of Wildfire in Central Australia

Fire in the Todd River

Fire has been an integral part of central Australian arid ecosystems for thousands of years. Fire is used by humans as a hunting aid, for signalling presence, for warmth and for cooking. Fire has a positive effect on germination of ephemeral plants, and is also known to be important for germination of many tough-coated seeding plants in central Australia (such as Hakea sp. and Greveilla sp.). As a result, many plant species have evolved to cope with periodic fire disturbance.

However, in central Australia, Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) has changed the way that the land burns and so fuel reduction burning and slashed firebreaks are more important than ever. Buffel Grass grows fast following heavy rains, it generally out-competes native grasses (producing a thick monoculture), and when it burns – it burns hot and fast. Consequently, the presence of Buffel Grass can be problematic for controlling fire.

Lately (or not so lately?), Alice Springs has seen a spurt of fire in the Todd River, which has got many residents concerned about the fragility of the old River Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis). The death of River Red Gums in the Todd River is saddening, as it means a loss of habitat for many of the amazing hollow-nesting birds and bats in the region. But there is a sentimental value to the beauty of the trees as well, which many long-term residents are keen to protect. Several of the large trees have cultural value to local Indigenous groups, which also warrants their protection from fire.

Removal of Buffel Grass around large River Red Gums (and other large trees) is one of the main ways that we can protect them. As a result of big summer rains, we have a huge fire risk with thick Buffel Grass growth around town and rural areas and there is a need for fuel reduction through slashing, spraying or prescribed burning.

Slashing is effective at removing Buffel Grass but it can be time-consuming and costly over large areas and is non-discriminatory (slashes the native grasses and herbs as well). It is best-suited to large and flat grassland areas that require quick fuel reduction.

Spraying can be effective at killing Buffel Grass but doesn’t remove the biomass and nor does it remove the fire hazard. Spraying as a technique is only effective when the Buffel Grass has green pick that is then able to absorb chemical for purposes of killing the root system. At this time of year, much of the Buffel Grass is dry and needs to be chipped out with a mattock if working at a small scale. Chemical is expensive and so is the time needed to spray large areas of Buffel Grass. With the loss of funding to programs such as Green Army – where does the funding come from to support such endeavours? In this case, the town largely relies on groups such as Landcare, as well as individual residents to volunteer their time and do the hard yards. Adopt an area or a tree and go from there!

Fuel reduction by prescribed burning an essential component of fire management, and in most cases the aim is to reduce the ground cover by 60 to 80 %. Such prescribed burning can be effective for a year or two in protecting large trees and habitats from large-scale fires, as well as preventing the spread of large fires. Prescribed burning needs permits and trained fire teams to conduct appropriately and becomes tricky within municipal areas – so it isn’t a reliable venture for protecting the large gums in the Todd River.

Want to know how you can help protect the River Red Gums? Read more about the recent suggestions in Fiona Walsh’s article (http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2017/07/30/save-our-trees-reduce-buffel-call-000-collaborate/).

If fire takes hold, what is the consequence for our wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole?

In terms of the soil, there will be an immediate loss of soil organic matter, and nutrients will be mobilised following a fire. These nutrients have the potential to be relocated downslope (hillside fires) or downstream (riverside or river island fires). There is an immediate loss of groundcover (plants) and leaf litter, which in turn can make an area susceptible to erosion, and result in wetter soils (fewer plants to absorb water through the roots).

Many central Australian birds (such as Cockatoos, Nightjars and Owls) rely on large tree hollows for nesting space. Following a fire, general bird abundance in the area will remain stable; however the loss of hollows can result in a long-term reduction in the population of hollow-nesting species. The loss of a small number of trees may not affect the ecosystem balance to a huge degree, while a large loss of trees may be consequential.

Bat population stability following fire depends on the insect population. Invertebrate population is extremely variable in time and space with or without fire. It is driven by environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall and insolation; and therefore the effect of fire is extremely difficult to determine. As a result, the effect of fire on bat populations will depend on a host of environmental factors as well.

Mammals can experience some initial mortality as a direct result of fire, and in the period following fire there can be increased predation due to lack of cover, and emigration from burnt areas. Patch burning can alleviate the risk to mammals to some extent – leaving intact patches of habitat for mammals to retreat to can be effective at protecting mammal populations.

For reptiles, the effect of fire on populations will depend on the amount of leaf litter and hollow logs left intact for shelter and foraging for food. Patch burning can provide useful refuges for skinks, lizards and snakes, and therefore populations can recover quickly after small and patchy fires. If a large tree with hollows does fall, it’s important to remember that while their hollows may no longer be useful as bird nesting sites, if left in place, they will provide useful habitat for many of the native reptiles in time.

So while fire can leave scars on the land and reduce the number of old hollow-bearing trees, in healthy ecosystems fire is important to regeneration of ephemerals and the wildlife can cope readily with small-scale and patchy fires. It’s the large fires that take hold in fuel-rich areas that are a concern, and fire in fragile systems such as rivers can result in a change in nutrient levels and erosion on the banks. The sentimentality of the beautiful old River Red Gums means that fire in Todd is an unwelcome event that we would like to avoid, which means removing Buffel Grass before a fire takes hold.

Want to do your bit? There are several keen Landcare (https://www.alicespringslandcare.com/ ) groups in Alice Springs that are removing weedy species to make way for the native forbs, which is proving successful at preventing the spread of large fires. Join a group near you!

Backyard Barnyards!

By Candice Appleby

 

Chicks huddling to keep warm under the lamp (Image C. Heenan).

 

Chickens make great mates, to you and to your garden. They not only provide you and your family with a wealth of freshly laid eggs. They also produce incredibly nitrogen rich fertiliser and reduce the amount of household waste in the form of food scraps heading to landfill at the tip. It is now approaching the time of year when the chicks you purchased at the Alice Springs Show are starting to get big enough to be moved out to your chicken run. Have you got everything ready, and how can you maximise the benefit from your new family member?

Here in Alice Springs there are a few things you need to consider when constructing and maintaining an outside chicken run!

Weather conditions can be quite variable. Summer is quite the character-builder and our chickens respond to the heat in much a similar way to us. Ensure you provide adequate shade and a sufficient water supply. A little trick I use is hooking up the chickens’ water supply to the garden irrigation system, much like you would with a bird bath, this ensures the chickens water gets topped up daily and your chickens are happy!

Winter nights can also get down to seriously cool temperatures. Provide an insulated nesting box made of wood for your chickens to keep warm and lay eggs. Chickens will also tend to eat more in winter (don’t we all) so don’t worry if you are finding them going through more food.

Something that can often be overlooked in the backyard chicken run, but is vitally essential, is a good old-fashioned dust bath. A dust bath is great for prevention of parasite infestation in the chickens’ feathers and legs. The simplest way to provide this is just a small cleared area covered with some dusting material; sand is the best for this purpose. Remember to keep this area moderately clean of faeces and food scraps by raking it out and adding fresh dusting material regularly. If, however, you want to treat your ladies to a day at the chicken spa, add a few herbs like rosemary, lavender, thyme and mint. This will leave them feeling pampered and smelling lovely, while utilising the herbs’ natural insecticide and anti-inflammatory properties. If you’re finding mites, fleas and ticks are still becoming a problem, you can also try popping a handful of garlic husks in the chicken nesting boxes to help prevent infestation.

Feeding your chickens is quite easy, they eat everything right? Well, somewhat, but not exactly. It’s important not to over-feed your chickens. Typically only feed your chickens the amount they can eat in ten minutes. Also, be sure not use food scraps that are showing signs of rot, as rotten scraps can be a source for botulism disease.

Foods not to give to chickens:

Decomposing material or maggots

Meat or bones

Tea leaves

Coffee grounds

Citrus fruits

Onion

Rhubarb

Orange

Banana

Raw potato peels

 

The outcome: So many Eggs!

Now that your chickens are happy and settled into their new home it won’t be long until they start popping out eggs left and right (unless you have yourself a rooster!). Keep in mind, in order to sell your chickens eggs, you will need to be registered as a food business. However, for private consumption simply ensure your eggs are thoroughly cleaned, throw away any cracked eggs not suitable for consumption and store the rest in the refrigerator below any cooked or ready to eat foods. It is important to also remember that over the counter wormers and medicated feed have the potential to transfer to the eggs. Take note of any warnings on packaging and the respect egg ‘Withholding Periods’ (WHP).

Everything is fair in love and chickens; however it is important to be aware of legalities. Luckily for us here in Alice Springs there aren’t too many restrictions regarding keeping chickens on your premises, for either rural or suburban properties. Alice Springs by-law states that “chickens have to be contained in a securely fenced yard or run which is no closer to a house than 12 metres”.

Northern Territory Government also requires properties with poultry to be registered with a ‘Property Identification Code’ (PIC) regardless of the number of animals on the property. This PIC is a biosecurity tool to help the government manage any outbreaks of disease by quickly and efficiently notifying anyone who may be effected. Registration is free and can be completed online at www.nt.gov.au/industry/agriculture/livestock/get-aproperty-identification-code

Enjoy your new garden friends!

~ Candice Appleby

 

Chick (Image C. Appleby).

National Tree Day Festivities

By Candice Appleby

To celebrate National Tree Day on Sunday 30th July, the Land for Wildlife team hosted an official launch of the new online interactive Central Australia Register of Significant Trees map. Thanks to the support from Territory Natural Resource Management, Olive Pink Botanic Gardens and Low Ecological Services P/L.

The NT Register of Significant Trees online register was launched on National Tree Day at Olive Pink Botanic Garden.

 

It was a lovely mild winter’s afternoon at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens on Sunday the 30th July. The birds were singing, the breeze was softly blowing and all the trees were celebrating happily as it was their day – National Tree Day.

Land for Wildlife was pleased to call this the setting of the official launch of Central Australia’s Register of Significant Trees interactive online map. There was a great turn out on the day with around 30 people attending. Over a cuppa and slice of delightful cake (baked by Caragh Heenan, our ever so talented Land for Wildlife coordinator), attendees had the chance to learn a little more about the history of the register and the recent work that has brought it to its new digital platform. Some great discussions took place around how the register should be presented to the public regarding retaining historical listings if the trees may be no longer present, and what actions we as a community can take to advocate for tree protection in and around the Alice Springs municipality. The latter seemed to be a major concern to those attending, with many developments proposed in the local area and Alice Springs currently having no tree protection by-laws in place.

Fiona Walsh also presented an update from the ‘Strategies to reduce loss of our Red River Gum Habitat’ meeting that took place at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens in late July. Offering some suggestions and insight as to how the community can get behind preventing habitat loss in the Todd River caused by wildfires through management and wildfire response. Thank you Fiona for your contribution!

The launch also served as an opportunity to announce an open expression of interest to members of the public to join the NT Significant Trees Committee. This committee will be responsible for attending triannual meetings to discuss significant tree matters and to conduct final assessments of new listing nominations. If you think you would like to join the NT Significant Trees Committee send an email through to lfw@lowecol.com.au and let us know!!

It was a great afternoon tea and a nice way to spend National Tree Day. Land for Wildlife would like to thank Territory Natural Resource Management for supporting this event through the National Landcare Program with a small community grant. TNRM made it possible for LFW to host the event as well as design and print a new NT Significant Trees brochure to be available at upcoming community events and downloadable from the Land for wildlife website.

We would also like to thank Olive Pink Botanic Gardens for providing the wonderful venue for the day, and the on-going support from Low Ecological Services P/L.

Head to the project page at the Land for Wildlife website to read more about the register, see a list of the trees on the central Australian register, download PDF fact sheets about the trees and even take a ‘virtual’ tour of the register via an interactive Google Map.

~ Candice Appleby

Cat Owners Feline Fine About Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness in Alice Springs Results

As the Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness in Alice Springs project starts to wrap up, we have been engaging with domestic cat owners that took part in the project regarding the monitoring results. We conducted a workshop this month on the findings from the cat monitoring, which will be officially released in a report next month. The owners had positive feedback from the monitoring and were genuinely interested about the results from the GPS-tracking, video surveillance and scat analysis.

The video surveillance is the first item on the agenda for the public and has been released on our YouTube channel. Head there to see all Land for Wildlife videos or go and watch the videos as a playlist.

Stay posted for the official release of the monitoring results – coming soon!

Domestic cat owners receive their results from the monitoring and awareness program (Image C. Appleby).

 

The Structure and Insulation of Avian Nests

Birds’ nests have evolved into many shapes and sizes, but they all function to provide a secure substrate for eggs and hatchlings, camouflage and defence from predators, as well as protect the eggs, hatchlings and incubating parent from harsh climatic conditions. My doctoral studies focused on understanding the factors influencing the structure and insulation of avian nests and hence the manner in which a nest may influence the energetic cost of incubation.

Nest materials can range from natural plant items (sticks and grass) and organic material (mud), to animal materials (hair, fur, spider silk) and man-made items (wool, wire and cloth). This nest is made completely from horse hair and a few strands of grass.

FACTORS INFLUENCING NEST SIZE AND SHAPE

Parent mass

Comparing the size and shape of nests of 36 Australian passerine species against parent mass reveals that nest surface area increases in direct proportion to the size of the parent. Nest diameter and height increase with parent mass but as nests become larger in line with increases in parent mass, the nest cup also becomes shallower and the opening becomes wider than expected, which allows for the space that the chicks will occupy.

Nest mass increases with parent mass at a rate that matches that of a supporting structure, suggesting that structural considerations of nest construction are of primary importance to nest design. The requirement for structural support is also evident for nest thickness, which increases more than proportionally expected as parent size increases. Structurally adequate nests become thicker than expected for their size in larger birds.

The clutch

Of interest is how the size or number of eggs in a clutch relates to the size of a nest. The clutch surface area and the internal surface area of the nest increase simultaneously; and the clutch volume and volume of the nest cup are also associated. Since nest design for the majority of birds in the study is in part influenced by the male and egg shape is controlled by muscles in the pelvis of the female, it is likely that one does not control the other. However, nest and egg size/shape are influenced by body size and ancestry. Therefore, it is likely that the nest and clutch are in fact independent, yet matched secondarily due to the shared influence of body mass and genetic ancestry.

The delicate nest of a Singing Honeyeater is decorated with Emu feathers and held together with spider silk and hair.

FACTORS INFLUENCING NEST INSULATION

Nest structure

As we know, the nest surface area increases in proportion to bird size, however nests become much thicker than expected as bird size increases. The thick walls provide structural support for the parent and clutch, with the consequence that structurally adequate nests achieve greater insulation than expected, as they increase in size. Nests are often viewed as objects that are designed to prevent heat loss from the clutch and incubating parent; however the requirement for adequate structural support is the primary selective influence on nest construction, not the requirement for insulation.

Nest microclimate

By assessing the insulation of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis) and Yellow-throated Miner (Manorina flavigula) nests under varying wind conditions, I found that wind enters the nest material and dissipates heat, resulting in a decrease in thermal insulation with greater wind speeds. The consequence of increased wind currents around and through the nests would be a near-doubling in heat production required by the parent when incubating.

While ambient temperature does not influence the structure of nests in my study, it does influence the insulation of nests and the thermal efficiency of the material. However, temperature and precipitation (henceforth referred to as climate) act in combination, indicating that the response of Australian passerines to one variable depends upon the level of the other.

 In sites with low temperatures, nest insulation may be important to maintain an appropriate microclimate for offspring and therefore birds construct nests with good insulation, irrespective of the rainfall at the site. For nests constructed in warm climates but at the two extremes of rainfall, there is a pronounced decrease in insulation for nests built in areas with high rainfall, compared to areas with low rainfall.

The effect of climate extends to the thermal efficiency of the nest materials, indicating that not only the ambient temperature, but also the precipitation of the breeding site, influences material selection during the nest construction phase. Birds breeding in warm and wet climates construct their nests with materials that have a poor thermal efficiency compared to those in dry climates. The warm temperatures may cause a relaxation in the need for insulation, and poorly insulating materials (such as sticks and grasses, rather than fur and wool) are possibly less absorptive and able to dry out faster following a rain event, to restore the insulating function of the nest.

To determine the effect of water (from rain, dew or absorption from the nest substrate) on the heat loss from the nest, I measured Tawny-crowned Honeyeater (Gliciphila melanops) nests under varying water content levels (from dry to saturated). Water penetrating the nesting material increases conductance of G. melanops nests by up to two and a half times the rate seen in a dry nest – a consequence of the decreased thermal efficiency of materials in a wet nest. As a result, additional energy is required by the incubating parent to keep clutches warm when nests become wet. Individuals should be capable of obtaining additional floral resources to deal with an energy deficit in cold and wet conditions. However, if floral resources are poor and an individual is unable to meet such energy demands, it may abandon the nest altogether.

Not all nests seem to be sufficient – this nest has large holes but is strong and doesn’t absorb water – but they have functions other than insulation of the young.

SUMMARY

My studies highlight the importance of nest design and construction for the thermal properties of nests – small variations in nest design can have significant impacts on the insulation value of a nest, which will in turn influence the energetic cost of incubation. The effect of rain and wind on nest insulation, and the consequence of this for the energetics of the incubating parent, reinforces the view that appropriate nest site selection that provides additional shelter is crucial for avian reproductive success.

Slater’s Skink – a Lesser-known Central Australian Resident

Mugshots: Spotty, Kelly and Billy (Slater) (Image C. Treilibs).

By Claire Treilibs

Without fur, feathers, or large-adorable eyes, reptiles generally draw the short straw when it comes to popular appeal of our native critters. Some (mammal-centric) commentators might argue that reptiles lack charisma, but these scaly creatures have their own je ne sais quoi.

A lesser-known central Australian resident is the endangered Slater’s skink (Liopholis slateri). With an air of nonchalance, these sly skinks laze outside their burrow entrances, peering through narrowed eyes, basking. Then – wham! At lightning speed, they pounce upon their prey – any ants or termites that might be wandering by.

I got to know a population of Slater’s skink over four years of a PhD study. I could tell who was whom from the spots and scale patterns on their faces. Once I found a way of recognising individuals by photograph, I could track them over time. Take ‘Spotty’ for instance. If I recorded where Spotty was when I snapped the photo, then I could track Spotty’s whereabouts; which burrows she uses, and for how long. I found that these skinks were surprisingly mobile within the population compared with the more sedentary habits of many of their close relatives.

Slater’s skinks are extraordinary in that they are specialist floodplain users. In fact, they only occur in the floodplains of the east and west MacDonnell Ranges. The entire global population occurs within 150 km of Alice Springs in 11 (mostly isolated) populations. Buffel grass, fire, climate change, and in some populations, cattle, are causing dramatic changes to their floodplain habitats and risking the future of this endangered skink.

Last month, indigenous ranger groups and other land managers got together to share information, discuss current monitoring and management of the skink, and how to help look after it in future. You can read more about the two-day Slater’s skink forum on the ABC post and the TNRM post.

~ Claire Treilibs

Slater’s skink, Liopholis slateri, is a floodplain specialist (Image C. Treilibs).

Significant Tree Register Goes Online

By Candice Appleby

As you may all recall earlier this year Land for Wildlife announced that we would be coordinating the rejuvenation of the National Trust NT Significant Trees Register. Overall, LFW are appointed to coordinate the maintenance of the register for the entire Northern Territory, however initially we have decided to focus our energy locally and revitalise the Central Australia Register.

A lot has changed in the region in the past 28 years since the inception of the register in 1989. Several listings have been removed from the register, as they have made way for town development or simply suffered the fate of nature (like fire, hail, old age and white ants). Likewise numerous listings were added in the 90’s when Greening Australia NT was managing the register.

Over the last few months we have made it a priority to get all this information into the digital age by GPS plotting each listing and getting all the information into an interactive database. After numerous site visits, sorting through old documents and culling expired listings, Land for Wildlife is excited to announce the Significant Trees Register (Central Australia Region) has now gone live!

Head to the project page at the Land for Wildlife website to read more about the register, see a list of the trees on the central Australian register, download PDF fact sheets about the trees and even take a ‘virtual’ tour of the register via an interactive Google Map.

Stay tuned for more updates to the register – next on the list to update is the Katherine- Daly Rivers Region. This is a region rich in Banyans, Boabs and historical blazes! Currently the Significant Tree Project is unfunded. Land for Wildlife is actively seeking funding to assist with the groundwork costs associated with reassessing trees and getting this information recorded on the database. Land for Wildlife would like to extend a great appreciation to our host Bill Low of Low Ecological Services for his ongoing support.

~ Candice Appleby

Significant Trees Register

The NT Register of Significant Trees is managed by Land for Wildlife Central Australia, on behalf of the National Trust NT.
The register was initiated by the National Trust NT, with input from Greening Australia NT, and coordination by Land for Wildlife Central Australia since 2011.

Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness Wrapping Up

 The Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness in Alice Springs program is wrapping up for another round and the cats are exhausted from all their hard work recording where they go and what they see. The tracker data has been through the wringer! Maps have been produced showing where the cats go and what their hotspots are. We will be running the timing of movements and distances through the calculator to get some statistics prepared. The final step in the process will be to collate the information and present this to the cat owners so they can see the results.

An additional monitoring round will take place in Tennant Creek in a couple of weeks if all goes to plan, with the intention of broadening the range of our community engagement. Several Tennant Creek residents with pet cats have offered to take part in the monitoring, with their data sneaking into the mix in the final couple of weeks of the funding round.

Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness: Possum’s roaming zone is far-reaching

As a little taster of the data to come, this is the measured home-range of Possum, a young Tabby that spends a significant amount of time outside. Possum spends much of its time outside near the house (red hotspot) but the tracking data shows that Possum also spends a good proportion of his time near the main road, roaming in the riverbed and also in nearby bushland (90% of GPS fixes are within the green shaded zone). Not only does Possum roam on the large property, but he also visits neighbouring properties. Possum’s video surveillance and tracking data will be presented to his owner in the coming weeks as the project is wrapped up for another year.

Interested in having your cat tracked but you haven’t taken part in the monitoring yet? Land for Wildlife will look at continuing the monitoring process for members of the Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife programs to engage with cat owners about responsible management of their free-roaming felines.

This project is supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.

Cat Trapping Success

Feral cats have contributed to the disappearance of many ground dwelling birds and mammals in the arid zone and continue to threaten the success of recovery programs for endangered species. It’s therefore a service to the native animals of the region to trap any feral cats you find roaming your property. Land for Wildlife loan out cat traps to members and can provide you with the information and advice needed to get you on your way to become a successful trapper.

Are you already trapping cats? Land for Wildlife would like to hear from you. We are in the process of gathering information on trapping success by Land for Wildlife members on their property. This information will be used to help the Alice Springs Town Council’s Environment Advisory Committee to assess the effectiveness of various trapping programs in the region.

We can determine trapping success by taking the ratio of the number of cats trapped to the number of trapping nights (successful and unsuccessful). If you are trapping feral cats on your property and are able to provide us with this information, we would appreciate it! Email us at lfw@lowecol.com.au with the two figures plus the suburb you are trapping in and we can collate the data from our members.