Land for Wildlife is celebrating 15 years of the program in central Australia, and Garden for Wildlife is celebrating 10 years of the program! We hope that the two complementary programs have been beneficial to our members and we look forward to continuing to support local landholders to preserve, enhance and restore wildlife habitat on private properties in the years to come.
Thanks to our host Low Ecological Services and current funding partners (Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife, Alice Springs Town Council, Territory NRM), as well as those that have funded and supported us in the past (so many!). We couldn’t have done it without you!
Many thanks to all Land for Wildlife coordinators past and present for building the program up to be what it is and providing expert assistance to landholders throughout central Australia. Thanks also go to the local organisations and groups that have supported us over the years to get the word out and assist us with the program at large.
Land for Wildlife celebrated the occasion with an event at the end of September, held at Olive Pink Botanic Garden (a long standing LFW member themselves who were gracious to provide assistance with the event venue). The event was very successful with roughly 35 LFW and GFW members in attendance for a range of great workshops and presentations. Presentations included a summary of the program, a property planning for wildlife presentation, an NT register of significant trees update, a seed collection workshop by Charles Darwin University, a bat box building workshop by Parks and Wildlife Commission NT, and a documentary Wild Brumby Run. The event included catering for morning tea, as well as lunch, provided by the Land for Wildlife team.
Thanks to Territory Natural Resource Management for supporting the event through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. In addition, Olive Pink Botanic Garden provided in kind support towards the fabulous venue. Local groups provided door prizes as in kind support, including books from Land for Wildlife, two vouchers from Red Kangaroo Books and two vouchers from Alice Springs Desert Park. The lucky recipients were drawn at random from those present—we hope that the vouchers and books are well received (they are certainly well deserved!).
There has been some excellent feedback from the event, with many of the attendees showing great appreciation for the informative workshops and a chance to mingle with other members. As part of the 15th birthday event, we provided some background and a summary on the Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife program in central Australia (presented below).
Land for Wildlife is a not-for-profit program that runs in various capacities throughout Australia. Land for Wildlife is aimed at assisting landholders in peri-urban and rural areas to preserve, enhance and recreate wildlife habitat. A parallel program, Garden for Wildlife, was developed in the biodiverse hotspot Alice Springs to assist members residing on urban blocks. The programs rely on voluntary and non-legally binding efforts from local landholders.
Land for Wildlife as a brand was established in 1981 by the Victorian government and Bird Observer’s Club of Australia. Land for Wildlife in Alice Springs and its partner program Garden for Wildlife have been running successfully for fifteen years, and ten years, respectively. They have been hugely successful programs and are widely regarded in the Alice Springs region. The program was initially run through the Alice Springs Town Council on a three year federal government grant. The Alice Springs Town Council ran it for a year, with Low Ecological Services taking up the remainder of the contract and hosting the program ever since and seeking grant moneys from a variety of agencies. The program is currently funded locally through Parks and Wildlife NT and the Alice Springs Town Council remains a sponsor. The program also has funding for individual projects through support from Territory Natural Resource Management and funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare programme. Additional previous funding bodies include Territory Eco-Link, Territory Natural Resource Management, Caring for Country, Landcare, Natural Heritage Trust, Envirofund, PowerWater and Low Ecological Services with in kind support and endurance.
Many of the member properties are situated within the MacDonnell Ranges Bioregion, containing the highest number of vulnerable and rare species listed with conservation status nationally and at the NT level. As a result, preserving even small patches of vegetation is a worthwhile venture in terms of providing habitat for native fauna species (and protecting the local native flora species themselves).
The member base extends to Yulara in the south-west, Andado Station and Ross River in the south-east, Narwietooma Station to the north-west and Tennant Creek Airport to the north. Cumulative property area covered by the 103 Land for Wildlife and 156 Garden for Wildlife members is 291,531 hectares, and rising.
Collaboration with private landholders is a successful method of conserving habitats and nature corridors, to address the challenge of species decline though habitat loss. This is achieved through regular engagement activities (workshops, participation in public events and monthly newsletters), providing networking opportunities, as well as providing on-going support and management advice specific to each block.
When signing up a new Land for Wildlife member, an assessment is conducted on the property, which includes identifying the flora and checking for tracks or scats of fauna, as well as identifying special value habitats and any management issues the property may have. An assessment report is then prepared for the property owner, which includes detailed information about the assessment, property management concerns and suggested methods for going forward. Ongoing assistance in the form of support, advice, information resources and links to other professionals and specialist organisations in the region is provided. Garden for Wildlife is more informal and membership does not include an assessment or report, but rather a resource package and informal site visit to assist with development planning, any queries and plant identification.
Attention in both programs is given to encouraging landholders to plant local native plant species, as these species are self-reliant and there is a subsequent reduction in water use in our water-limited semi-arid zone. Retaining and protecting remnant vegetation is recommended to members. To allow regeneration of habitat, members are advised to fence areas from livestock and restrict the access of livestock to ephemeral rivers and drainage systems. Encouraging distribution of run-off and controlling erosion is oft-needed advice. Members are encouraged to control weed and feral species, such as removal of Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) to allow room for native grasses, and trapping feral cats (Felis catus) to limit the predation pressure on native mammals and reptiles. Protecting various elements of wildlife habitat, such as fallen wood, leaf litter and dead branches and trees with hollows are also encouraged.
While the programs have been successful for many long-term members, Alice Springs has a notoriously transient population. While this has benefits in people taking ‘the message’ with them to other regions, it also makes maintaining contact with member properties and their current owners an ongoing challenge. This challenge has been overcome through a combination of efforts, such as the use of MailChimp as an online newsletter mailing tool – bouncing emails promote impetus to contact members to clarify their current status, regular interaction with members to stay up to date with their conservation efforts and the encouragement of communication through the monthly newsletter. The small community of Alice Springs has the benefit that networking with members through chance meetings around town is a useful tool.
As well as the transient membership, the coordinator position has been run by many energetic and qualified specialists over the period of the program in central Australia. While this can be a challenge for members with respect to different levels of engagement, each coordinator comes with a different focus, drive and experience – which can be a benefit in that the information and energy is kept fresh. A potential benefit for incoming coordinators and for LFW members is the amazing expertise and experience available amongst the LfW landholders and their willingness to share that expertise.
Land for Wildlife has been incredibly successful and is a much-loved program in the region. One of the major avenues of communicating with and engaging members and the wider community is through the monthly newsletter and social media posts. Newsletters contain relevant and current information on hot topics, which members can use to manage their properties. The newsletter also provides opportunities for members to share their experience and wildlife snapshots with other members. The website blog and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, give multi-media savvy members avenues of staying engaged with Land for Wildlife on a more regular basis between newsletters – whether it be through the posting of a photo from a member, sharing upcoming events, or posting an article relevant to the day. It also gives Land for Wildlife members the ability to interact as much or as little as they wish, without intensive moderation from the coordinator. Social media followers are steadily increasing with regular interaction. Social media also enables Land for Wildlife to engage with people that are outside of the membership network – the Alice Springs community, Australia and internationally.
Land for Wildlife collaborates with many government agencies, which provides a conduit to gain and pass on information – such as PowerWater for water conservation, Department of Land and Resource Management for weed management and erosion control information, and Parks and Wildlife for flora and fauna information. The experience of the LfW coordinators and the networks provided by the role means that the coordinator is able to handle a wide variety of issues.
Engagement with the youth of Alice Springs occurs through a range of community events, with the DesertSmart EcoFair providing one very useful lead. Land for Wildlife ran a ‘Biodiversity’ workshop to four school groups at this year’s EcoFair, with positive feedback coming from all involved. Exposure is gained from our involvement in other community events such as the Olive Pink Botanic Garden Plant Sales, EcoFair markets, Pets on Parade, Alice Springs Show and Mini Bilby Festival.
Collaboration with the Tjuwanpa Women Rangers and the Ntaria Junior Rangers on a regular basis has resulted in the development of a good working relationship with the indigenous communities in the West MacDonnell Ranges, as well as cross-cultural information transferral regarding important NRM issues of the region.
The land assessments give the property owners knowledge regarding the flora present on their block. Many members find plant identification a challenge and are hesitant to do extensive weed control at the risk of removing natives. With a little guidance regarding plant identification, members are much more willing to get active in the garden removing the pesky species, resulting in a healthy garden full of local natives. Land for Wildlife encourages nurseries to provide local native plants and encourages the nursery association to assist in spreading the word, but maintaining those connections is always a challenge due to the transient nature of Alice Springs.
Several properties are now Buffel grass free and only require minimal maintenance to keep the Buffel at bay, and some property owners have even made their way out onto the verge to clear the buffel. Consequently, many native forbs and flowering annuals have returned, providing fruit, seed and foraging vegetation cover for native birds and other fauna.
Erosion control and education has been a priority, which has been extremely helpful for members and other residents in the rural area of Ilparpa.
A long-term success on central Australian Land for Wildlife properties has been the ongoing trapping support given to members for feral animals such as cats, rabbits and spotted turtle doves. Members can borrow traps and get the information resources necessary to assist them in their trapping journey.
In the last couple of years, Land for Wildlife has been running a domestic cat monitoring project in Alice Springs. This is supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. The project focuses on engaging domestic cat owners regarding responsible pet management by tracking the movements of pet cats with a GPS tracker. The project has been picked up by the local media on several occasions and has gained a huge amount of interest in the community.
The NT Register of Significant Trees was conceived in 1982 by the National Trust and Greening Australia and is now management by Land for Wildlife central Australia. It includes central Australia, Katherine and the Darwin region. Candice Appleby has been working hard to revitalise the register and convert it to an online format.
Land for Wildlife/Garden for Wildlife has won many awards over the years, including: Best Urban NRM Group (TNRM Awards 2015 and 2016), Toshiba Leading Information Award Community Group (NT Landcare Awards 2011), Community Award (Melaleuca Awards 2010), Urban Landcare Award (NT Landcare Awards 2009), and Merit Award (NT Landcare Awards 2007).
Our success has come from a combination of all efforts that have been put in, from workshops and attending events, newsletters, social media interaction to personalised engagement and advice. Overall, Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife have been hugely successful in central Australia for engaging the community regarding the importance of preserving and revegetating wildlife habitat on private as well as public lands and we look forward to another 15 strong years of the program.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 email@example.com with the two figures plus the suburb you are trapping in and we can collate the data from our members.
Land for Wildlife was conducting trials this month with the GPS-trackers and video surveillance camera as part of the Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness in Alice Springs project. The first cat to trial the camera was TeeGee, an adventurous tabby moggy that was adopted by his owners’ pet duck (Scarfy and Friend), and has since become a part of the family. You can see TeeGee’s adventures on our YouTube channel (see below).
Land for Wildlife is still looking for volunteer cat owners for the Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness program in Alice Springs. We will be looking at running another round of monitoring in February so please let us know if you are interested in taking part in the program to see where cats wander and what they see.
This project is supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.
Land for Wildlife is still looking for volunteer cat owners for the Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness program in Alice Springs. We have a couple of remaining spaces for urban cats and are also looking for domestic cat owners in the rural areas of Ilparpa, White Gums, Connellan and Ross (plenty of spaces available). Please get in touch if you live in any of these areas, own a cat and are interested in taking part in the program to see where cats wander and what they see.
Land for Wildlife is conducting trials this week with the GPS-trackers and video surveillance camera. The first cat to trial the camera is six-year-old TeeGee. TeeGee was adopted by his owners’ pet duck and has since become a part of the family. You can see the fun pair on YouTube: Scarfy and Friend. TeeGee has been sporting the camera this week and we are looking forward to seeing his adventures.
We will be looking at running another round of monitoring in February so please let us know if you can be involved (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Land for Wildlife has been involved in helping out the Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) Green Army team at Olive Pink Botanic Garden (OPBG), a historic, well-established and active member of the Land for Wildlife program. The Green Army program focused on ecological works such as garden bed rejuvenation, Buffel Grass removal and feral animal management to support Black-footed Rock Wallaby habitat conservation. This was their last week in the program and Land for Wildlife was happy to see how far the team have come!
Land for Wildlife provided training and support for the six months of Feral Cat and Spotted Turtle-dove trapping (see blogs on the workshop and trapping successes. During their 20-week trapping program, they captured a total of six Cats (Felis catus) and 15 Spotted Turtle-Doves (Streptopelia chinensis). They also accidentally caught 3 Black-footed Rock Wallabies (Petrogale lateralis) in the cat trap… or one particular individual that had a taste for sardines (see the blogs for wallabies and doves caught in the cat trap).
Well done Green Army – great work on the feral animal trapping and Buffel-bashing. Good luck and all the best on your next adventure!
Researchers and Rangers from around Australia descended on Alice Springs last week for the Australian Mammal Society’s annual conference, which included a symposium dedicated to feral cat research and management. It was great to hear about the actions being taken by dedicated individuals around Australia. Gregory Andrews, the Threatened Species Commissioner, spoke to the symposium attendees about the impact that feral cats are having on Australia’s wildlife and the need to control the feral cat population, stating “It’s not about demonising feral cats; it’s about loving our native wildlife enough to save it”. Shortly after, Brett Murphy outlined some staggering statistics about feral cat numbers in Australia – his team have used population density estimates and aridity patterns to extrapolate to 2.7 million feral cats across Australia!
With the spring weather warming up, the reptiles become more active and this means there is plenty of food available for feral cats. As a result, feral cats are also active and so it’s time to get trapping. The Alice Springs Town Council have been busy catching cats over the last few weeks and suggest that Land for Wildlife members consider joining in.
Land for Wildlife (Ph 8955 5222) has plenty of cat traps available for loan and can provide information and advice regarding trapping of feral kitties on your block. Already have a trap? Download the Cat Trapping information from the Land for Wildlife fact sheets page. The ASTC Rangers can assist you by collecting any cats caught (contact the ASTC: Ph 8950 0500) and delivering them to the Alice Springs Animal Shelter.
Land for Wildlife is still seeking cat owners from the rural areas to take part in the next Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness programme. The study involves tracking domestic cats with a GPS, monitoring their activities with kitty-cams and scat analysis to see what they are eating when out and about. If you have a cat and live in Ross, Connellan, Ilparpa/White Gums – please get in touch at email@example.com or on 08 8955 5222.
Check out the article from the Centralian Advocate last week!