Property Planning for Wildlife

 

We all love the plants, animals and other aspects of the natural world that we are surrounded with and want to learn how to protect them – the best that we can. You can aim as high as you like – or as humble as you like. Just do what you can. At the basic level, it could mean increasing your own awareness of wildlife and its needs. At a moderate level, it could mean installing a bird bath and providing fresh water to those in need and removing a few weeds. At the upper level, it could mean planting out your property and designing it in a way that maximises wildlife habitat.

The environment has been changed drastically with European arrival and increasing population levels. Much of the remnant vegetation has been cleared for agriculture, housing and infrastructure. In addition to habitat loss, there are many species that were introduced that subsequently became pests, causing enormous environmental and economic loss. Such species include rabbits, cats and foxes. At an invertebrate level, the European Honeybee, while providing economic benefit for pollination of crops, is a threat to native pollinators and ecosystems. The extreme changes to the environment have resulted in severe species loss, with 1 bird and 11 mammals having become extinct in the Northern Territory. In addition to the loss of fauna species, we are also experiencing a loss of plant species and erosion problems.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. With advances in research, we have come to understand the unique qualities of our native flora and fauna and the ecosystems of which they are a part. Wildlife is an asset that we should strive to retain. Landscape planning is important for flora and fauna considerations. In addition, biodiversity is important at many levels economically – environmental restoration, ecotourism, bush food cultivation, carbon credits, plant propagation and provision to the public, parks/reserves, environmental education to schools… and the list goes on!

Rural communities play an important role in protecting and rehabilitating the environment through groups such as Landcare, Land for Wildlife and other community based programs. Many parcels of land are locked up in pastoral leases, residential freehold and crown land. Remnant vegetation is often only visible on roadside verges and uninhabitable hillsides. As a result, National Parks are often preserving the extremes – ranges, gorges, valleys. The flat and degraded landscapes are often overlooked and require private landholders to get involved, especially if the land includes precious remnant habitat.

3 R’s – The priority for conserving flora is to Retain remnant vegetation, Restore the quality of degraded habitats, and Revegetate cleared areas.

There are a few general considerations when it comes to property planning for wildlife, including integration of land uses, time, space and species thresholds, and quality the habitat available.

Integration of land uses

Ensure you are meeting all your needs with respect to land use. Do you need space for working outdoors? Relaxation spaces? Active spaces for sport? Cover your needs and work with the rest.

Time

Time is required for habitats to develop, for pioneer species to be replaced by those of older stages, and for trees to develop hollows. Plan and be patient.

Quantity and Space Thresholds: Connect and Consolidate

The bigger the better! Larger and more compact areas support a greater diversity of habitats on different land systems, more species due to quantity and diversity of resources (see the species to area relationship), larger populations, and a greater chance of linkages between habitats. A space threshold is the minimum area required for a certain species to establish. If you are targeting selected species, ensure that you have the space required to support it before dedicating planting and planning activities towards it. For example, the Hooded Robin requires a territory of around 5 hectares, so many rural blocks may not be sufficient in their own right. Remember, getting your neighbours involved helps to widen the habitat corridor and larger patches are achievable with coordinated efforts. Complex large patches are integral during drought, as many bird species congregate in resource-rich sites in poor conditions, known as drought refuges.

For vegetation, compact areas are important as there is a greater core area away from edge disturbance (weeds, predators, surrounding land use). In the undergrowth, there are usually more weeds around edges, so smaller forbs and native grasses are likely to thrive in the core area of a larger patch. For larger trees, there is often more Mistletoe found in trees around edges that can put stress on large trees. Many species of fauna avoid edges due to the risk of predation and prefer core areas that provide safety. Yellow-throated Miners may dominate in linear patches of habitat and out-compete other smaller White-plumed Honeyeaters, Babblers etc, that prefer to take safety in core areas. Having some larger core areas will enable the wildlife to reach a balance.

On the other hand, edges offer a greater variety of resources for some fauna species that are able to utilise the adjacent habitats equally and can result in greater species diversity. For example, Kangaroos benefit from edges as they can take protection in woodlands and graze in open paddocks and dusk and dawn. The aforementioned Mistletoe, common around edges, is also necessary. It is native and has a symbiotic relationship with native Mistletoe Birds and the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, so don’t be hasty to remove it.

To help alleviate the effect of edges on remnant habitat, start by increasing the core area by undertaking revegetation activities around narrow areas. You may also wish to separate two differing and incompatible land uses with an intermediate complementary land use – a buffer. For example, if a portion of your property is being used for livestock and an adjacent patch of remnant vegetation has a significant edge, consider planting alongside the edge with an intermediate habitat to lessen the edge effect.

There is an increased risk of impact from random events in small and isolated patches, and limitations on dispersal of wildlife may be an issue. Therefore, if you have several small patches of habitat and no opportunity to expand them in size, you may wish to consider connecting the patches with wildlife corridors or stepping stones. Connected habitats protect area-limited and dispersal-limited species by providing an avenue for secure movement.

Remnant vegetation is represented as dark green; Edges are represented as yellow borders; Revegetated areas are represented as light green; Buffers are represented as pale orange; Movement by wildlife is represented as black arrows

 

How much you can achieve will depend on how large your property is. If you have the time, space and resources – aim high! If you have a small area and are unable to increase patch size, you can adopt alternative management strategies such as restoring cover and connectivity to improve habitat for various species. Start with realistic goals, you can always expand if time and space allows it.

Quality

The quality of the habitat, the degree of degradation, and how well it functions are all important aspects to consider. So once the major aspects have been thought through, you can make your way down to the nitty gritty. What are you aiming for? For many, a generally healthy ecosystem is the goal. A healthy habitat is one in which most of the layers of vegetation are present and dominated by native plant species typical of the region. It is also a system that is free from disturbance, including introduced weeds and feral animals. High ecosystem function includes adequate pollination of flowering plants by native invertebrates and birds, natural wood decay for recycling of nutrients and provision of nesting hollows, as well as the presence of breeding populations of living organisms native to the area.

Vegetation Layers and Habitat Diversity

Adding layers of complexity in the garden increases the diversity of life that uses it as habitat. At a large scale, complexity can be in the form of different habitat types such as woodlands (many bird species), grasslands (Zebra Finch), creek lines (Kingfisher, Frogs, Fish), caves (Bats), gullies (Frogs), and hillsides (Euros, Wallabies).

Most species are highly dependent on water availability and quality so ensure you include water courses in your plan where possible. Protect existing watercourses and avoid modifying them to allow them to remain natural. If degraded, consider revegetating with native plants to prevent erosion, enhance wildlife habitat and encourage healthy water. In areas that don’t have natural water courses, you may consider installing a bird bath that can provide a water source. A bird bath that is raised above the ground and abutting shrubbery on one side will protect small birds from predators. Ponds are also suitable water sources for reptiles and frogs. Water baths can be topped up manually, or via a drip irrigation system as part of the whole garden. Install water tanks and a method of catching excess rain water to make the most of the water available.

Within a habitat type, complexity includes the provision of large canopy trees (Parrots, birds of prey) with tree hollows (Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Bats) and loose hanging bark (Shrike Tit), complemented by a protective understorey (Rufous Whistler, Robins), ground cover, herbs, grasses and soil-crusting cryptograms. For example, a minimum of 30% tree cover is needed to maintain woodland birds. Smaller bird species are not as abundant in areas with little understorey, rather such open and scattered habitats favour the more aggressive Yellow-throated Miners. Healthy habitats include flowering trees and shrubs to support native pollinators (Honeyeaters, Invertebrates) and Mistletoe (Mistletoe Bird, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater), and provides logs (Treecreepers, Reptiles), termite mounds (Perentie), rocky areas (Reptiles, Frogs), sandy areas (Snakes, Goannas), and mulch or groundcover (Reptiles, Invertebrates).

In terms of structure, the complexity of a habitat should provide breeding and sheltering sites, foraging sites, basking and hibernation sites, perching sites, runaways and refuges, camouflage, nurseries, and leaf-litter traps.

Native Plants

In Alice Springs, there are more than 600 native plant species, distributed over 27 individual vegetation types (as classified by Albrecht and Pitts in 2004). The vegetation present at a particular site is a result of regional and landscape factors such as rainfall, temperature, altitude, and topography; local factors such as soil type, geology, slope, aspect, and prevailing weather; individual factors such as environmental tolerance; and historical factors such as fire, disease, human impact, evolution, and species introductions. Local native species are best suited for revegetation activities as the wildlife has coevolved with the plant life – they often rely on each other for survival.

In arid Australia, it’s important to conserve water. You can do this by planting wisely. Local native plant species require less water than introduced species and lawns once established. Native plants are also hardy, giving you ‘bang for your buck’.

Be sure you keep updated about when the plant sales are on and what to buy – get in early to avoid missing out on the appropriate plants of your choice. Consider propagating your own plants to save money if revegetating large areas. This requires good timing and patience, as many native plants take many years to establish. If planting young individuals, choose your timing to avoid hot days and stress to plants, avoid planting before going on holidays or have a house-sitter that can look after them.

Plant wisely – use local native species where possible, account for growth of tree roots and canopy size (some species may interfere with each other or disrupt infrastructure), avoid lawns (they are water thirsty and don’t really add to the biodiversity – consider Lippia or Creeping Boobialla as an alternative), consider irrigation planning before planting (applies water where it is specifically needed, reduces water loss through evaporation, and encourages deep root growth). It’s a good idea to include wattles (Acacia sp.) in your planting plan for their nitrogen fixing abilities.

Free from Disturbance

Weeds and feral animals can have a serious impact on native flora and fauna populations. Invasive species often out-compete native species for resources, thereby reducing their chance of survival. The removal of Buffel Grass (not a declared weed) will often result in the reestablishment of a host of native forbs and grasses that act as a food source for native wildlife. Purchase plants, soil and mulch from local retailers to minimise the introduction of weeds. Protect seedlings from rabbits and other herbivores with guards and protect seedlings from water loss with mulch. Remove feral species such as Cats and Spotted Turtle-doves with an active and ethical trapping program. The establishment of feral and pest bird populations can be prevented by enclosing chicken feeders to eliminate access to seed.

Wood Decay

Natural and termite-induced wood decay is important for recycling of nutrients and provision of nesting hollows. Avoid pruning dying branches if safe to do so to ensure adequate perching sites and to allow decay, in turn providing habitat and nesting hollows for diversity of bat, insect and avian species. Leaving fallen branches to decay naturally will not only provide habitat for native reptiles and invertebrates, but allow Termites to feed and recycle nutrients back into the system.

A Healthy System

Successful pollination of flowering plants by native invertebrates and nectarivorous birds will enable plants to come into fruit and seed and therefore self-generate in the system. Some seed can then be collected for propagation, and the rest allowed to fall and natural regeneration to occur.

The presence of breeding populations of living organisms native to the area is indicative of a healthy working ecosystem.

Help the Needy

It’s important to protect threatened fauna species and their habitats where possible. To do this, you need to know where individuals occur and what habitat they require. Resources for this include Fauna Atlas records on NR Maps and the Atlas of Living Australia, as well as the NT Government Threatened Animals and Threatened Plants pages.

The NT Register of Significant Trees has a list of some of the territory’s most significant trees, but access to AAPA can also highlight other culturally significant trees or sites that are worthy of protecting.

Summary: Make a Plan

Begin by mapping or drawing your house and block. Google Earth, Google Maps and NR Maps can help you to get an idea of the shape and layout of your property.

Identify any significant sites that need protection.

Where are the water courses and wetlands?

Identify the remnant habitat patches. Which ones can be expanded?

What is the distance between healthy patches? Where can stepping stones and corridors be placed to increase connectivity? Where can buffers be placed to reduce effects of surrounding land use?

Improve the quality of degraded vegetation. Enlarge, widen or create linkages?

Revegetate areas of concern with local native species, including endangered species where possible

What is the percentage cover as it stands? How much do you want to add and where? Plan ahead to avoid overcrowding and competition for resources.

Are the needs of the desired wildlife species being met? How can this be improved?

Consider smart fencing – allow for movement by wildlife.

Encourage Others

Display your Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife sign – this shows others in the area of your commitment to wildlife habitat preservation and restoration and helps to encourage others to follow your lead. This in turn creates a vegetation corridor or network of properties for wildlife to move between.

Tim and Jannah Leane are Land for Wildlife members in the rural area of Ross (Image T&J Leane).

 

 

 

Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife Central Australia: Celebrating 15 years of Wildlife Habitat Preservation, Enhancement and Restoration

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).

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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.

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.

New Viruses Offer Hope for Improved Rabbit Biocontrol

By Greg Mutze, Biosecurity SA

About 6 years ago, two things happened that may ultimately lead to better biological control of rabbits in Australia.

RHD Boost (K5)

The first one was a plan developed by Australian rabbit researchers to look for new strains of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV, also known as RHDV1 or calicivirus) in Europe and Asia. It was known that some RHDV1 strains that that had been causing problems to rabbit meat producers overseas for 20 years were not present in Australia. The research program, called RHD Boost, introduced new strains of RHDV1 for testing at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute near Sydney. In particular, the research aimed to see if any of the overseas strains might be more effective in the higher rainfall areas of south-eastern Australia, where rabbits are partially protected from RHDV1 by a related, benign calicivirus called RCV-A1. RCV-A1 was present before RHDV1 was introduced but doesn’t cause noticeable disease. However, rabbits that have been infected by RCV-A1 are less likely to die when infected by RHDV1. A Korean RHDV1 strain (K5-RHDV1) was identified that killed a high proportion of rabbits with antibodies to RCV-A1 and it has been approved for release in autumn 2017. About 600 landholder groups have signed up to be part of the national release program. K5-RHDV1 may provide some benefit in the hot, dry areas where RCV-A1 is less common, but that is less certain.

RHDV2

At about the same time as RHD Boost research began, another new strain of calicivirus, RHDV2, emerged in Europe in 2010 and rapidly spread through France, Spain and Portugal. It was discovered in Canberra in May 2015. How it arrived in the country is unknown but it has also spread from Europe to pet rabbits Canada. The Australian strain is genetically similar to a strain from Portugal.

RHDV2 spread within 1 year to much of New South Wales and Victoria, probably aided by flies and mosquitoes, but possibly also through people moving infected pet rabbits, or contaminated equipment or food. It was detected in South Australia in December 2015, and spread gradually through almost all the agricultural districts and into the southern pastoral zone. Isolated cases have been reported from pet rabbits in Darwin and Alice Springs but it is not known to be widely established in wild rabbits in central Australia.

RHDV2 has been killing some pet rabbits that have been vaccinated against RHDV, and can overcome immunity in wild rabbits that have survived infection in previous RHDV1 outbreaks. In agricultural areas and areas of high biodiversity, it is hoped that the new strain might provide another significant knockdown of wild rabbit populations for some years. In France, Spain, Portugal and Scotland where RHDV1 has also been active 20-30 years, rabbit populations have been severely depleted by RHDV2 in the past 5 years.

Biosecurity SA Needs Your Dead Rabbits

Biosecurity SA expects that RHDV2 will continue to spread in arid Australia but want to discover how it competes with the existing field strains, and whether K5 RHDV1 Boost strain spreads naturally in those areas, or if there is an optimum time to make tactical releases of the K5 RHDV. The virus can only be identified reliably in the liver or bone marrow of rabbits that have recently died from the disease. Samples are urgently needed to monitor RHDV2 spread. Please call us if you see dead rabbits. Freeze them and we will organise the rest. Samples will help determine which strains are most effective, and at what time of year and where these strains are active.

More broadly, data from rabbit samples can be used to assess the effectiveness of the various rabbit biocontrols currently in existence and to argue for further research to find new biocontrols to benefit Australia’s agricultural industries and the environment.

In the event RHDV2 does take hold, it may significantly enhance the effectiveness of standard rabbit control measures, with less rabbits around to survive a control program and reinfest properties. This is a great opportunity to get long term control of persistent rabbit problems.

~ Greg Mutze

Download the LFW Rabbit Control Factsheet

How to Provide a Sample

Look out for dead rabbits that otherwise look healthy. This may be evidence of an RHDV1 or RHDV2 outbreak. Collect a rabbit carcass (or just liver, or long hind leg bones if the liver has been scavenged) and store it, with its source location and date, in a plastic bag in the freezer.

Record any observations. For example: “I used to count 50 rabbits driving from the gate to the house and in the last week I have seen none” or “I found a number of dead rabbits but there still seems to be heaps of live rabbits about”.

Once you have a rabbit sample in the freezer, please contact Biosecurity SA to arrange collection or drop-off of the sample for testing in Adelaide, or at CSIRO in Canberra.

Land managers will be advised of the results, which could confirm RHDV1 or RHDV2 activity in their area.

Further Information

Greg Mutze, Biosecurity SA, greg.mutze@sa.gov.au , 08 8303 9505

Dave Peacock, Biosecurity SA, david.peacock@sa.gov.au , 08 8303 9504

The rabbit shows the typical pose in which rabbits are often found if they have died of RHDV – lying on their side, neck arched back and legs extended backwards (Image Biosecurity SA).

The rabbit shows the typical pose in which rabbits are often found if they have died of RHDV – lying on their side, neck arched back and legs extended backwards (Image Biosecurity SA).

Parks and Wildlife NT Lorikeet Survey

By John Tyne

On September 28th, eight volunteers assisted Parks and Wildlife to conduct a census of introduced Rainbow Lorikeets in Alice Springs. The volunteers came from a number of organizations including Birdlife Central Australia, Alice Springs Field Naturalist Club and Land for Wildlife.  Thirty nine locations were surveyed for rainbow lorikeets, with volunteers recording the times, location and number of birds seen and heard at each survey point.  Despite the damp conditions many birds were out and about. After reviewing the data, I would conservatively estimate that there are at least 17 individual birds. The main population of birds appears to be focused in the Gillen area near the local primary school, which then probably disperses throughout Alice Springs during the day to feed. What is especially concerning is that two nesting hollows in the Todd River and a third in town are currently being used which may indicate an imminent increase in bird numbers.  I would like to thank everyone very much for their help with this survey, and please keep the sightings coming in!  They can be submitted to the NT Wildwatch website (http://root.ala.org.au/bdrs-core/nt-dlrm/home.htm), E-bird (http://ebird.org/content/ebird/) or submitted to me directly (John Tyne, John.Tyne@nt.gov.au ).

~ John Tyne, Parks and Wildlife NT

Survey map of the locations where lorikeets were and were not observed (Map provided by John Tyne).

Survey map of the locations where lorikeets were and were not observed (Map provided by John Tyne). Click on image to enlarge for ease of viewing numbers.

OPBG Green Army Graduation

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!

Fighting Feral Cats

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.

Rainbow Lorikeet Population Survey Volunteers Needed

By John Tyne, Wildlife Ranger, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the NT

Over the last six months I’ve been monitoring the feral Rainbow Lorikeet population around Alice Springs. Most of these Lorikeets are likely to have escaped or been released from aviaries over the years, but recently they have been spotted nesting in hollows around town. I’ve got a decent handle on where they are now, but it’s been difficult to determine how many there are.  I’m putting together a group of volunteers to help conduct a census to get an estimate on how many of the birds are out there.  If any Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife members are interested, please get in touch via email (John.Tyne@nt.gov.au) by Sunday the 25th of September to express interest. The time and date for the survey will be from 6:30-8am Wednesday the 28th of September.

Once I have participant numbers, I will print up a map with locations for the individuals to take observation from. I’m planning on meeting at 6:15 am, at the Town Council carpark to distribute the maps, pencils, etc. From the observation locations, I’ll ask that people listen and look for the lorikeets. If they are seen, the observer will need to record the time and a count of individual birds. If they are heard, they can try to move to where they can be seen, then take the time, a count, and record the new location. If the birds are moving, they can draw a line on the map indicating the direction of travel. When an observation is made, or you don’t hear or see anything after 10 minutes, participants can move on to the next location.  At 8 am we can all meet back at the Town Council carpark, and I can collect the maps and observations.

There is no control work planned for the birds at the moment.  This survey is really just a baseline so I can gather some data on how many birds are out there.  If no control work is undertaken, it will be useful to see if there is any change in the population. If there is control work undertaken, it will help to determine if or how successful the work is.

Get in touch if you are willing to assist with the survey!

~ John Tyne

Rainbow Lorikeets taking shade in a tree, Katherine NT (Image C, Heenan)

Rainbow Lorikeets taking shade in a tree, Katherine NT (Image C, Heenan)

Foxes in Central Australia

The European Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) was introduced to Australia for recreational hunting in 1855 and has since spread across ~76% of the continent. Foxes breed best in locations of winter rainfall and as such, do best in the southern half of NT, however they are moving northwards and are now found as far north as Tennant Creek and the Barkly region. An individual seen by Bill Low along Colonel Rose Drive in 1981 was in excellent condition, whereas one found later in 1988 near Barkley was scrawny and emaciated. While foxes are known to be in central Australia, their numbers somewhat correlate with the presence of dingoes (foxes are less prevalent when dingoes are in abundance, possibly influencing where and when foxes can hunt).

The fox scavenges and preys on anything that is available, particularly small mammals and reptiles, but occasionally insects and fruit when prey is scarce. The fox has contributed to the decline of ground-nesting birds, small mammals and reptiles. Predation by the European Red Fox is listed as a key threatening process under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999, and as such the Australian Government has implemented a Threat Abatement Plan that aims to reduce the impact of foxes. The plan includes fox control and management programs, education of land managers and dissemination of information regarding the impact of foxes in Australia.

Fox control has had mixed success around Australia. Locally, the Central Land Council and Parks and Wildlife NT was involved in the trial of specialised bait stations that deliver poison to foxes but limit access to poison for dingos. This technique had some success but further trials were postponed (2010). Other control methods include shooting, trapping, den fumigation and fencing.

Read more about foxes in the fact sheet European Red Fox.

Fox found on the Tanami Highway

Fox found on the Tanami Highway (Image D. Price).

Green Army: Feral Cat Trapping Progress

Land for Wildlife provided the Olive Pink Botanic Garden (OPBG) Green Army team with trapping assistance via a training workshop earlier this month (Read the workshop blog here). The team have been trialling a few trap locations within OPBG, with unexpected results.

They have had four occurrences of by-catch of Black-footed Rock Wallaby (Petrogale lateralis), who were looking for a free feed of sardines. The wallabies highlight the need for feral cat trapping as a method of protecting our native fauna. It also raises the question: What won’t wallabies eat?! The wallabies were released and the Green Army team have since moved their traps to new locations.

The team have since had their first success with a Cat (Felis catus) capture. The cat was taken to the Alice Springs Animal Shelter to determine whether it is a roaming domestic cat or a feral cat. Contact the Alice Springs Animal Shelter (Ph 08 8953 4430) if your tabby has gone missing. For more information on feral cats, view the Feral Cat factsheet. To learn about domestic cats roaming out and about, download our brochure Where Is Your Cat Now?

Wallaby

Black-footed Rock Wallaby (Petrogale lateralis) caught in a trap

 

Trapped Cat

Cat trapping success for OPBG’s Green Army team