The topic of dingoes often sparks a range of opinions amongst conservationists and pastoralists. There are many uncertainties about the animal, including the exact date that the dingo arrived on Australian shores, if the dingo should be classed as a native Australian animal, and queries about the role the dingo plays in the current ecosystem.
Arid Recovery’s Dingo Project has been investigating the detailed interaction between dingoes, cats and foxes since 2007. The Dingo Project has studied the role of dingoes in suppressing cats and foxes in arid Australia, the influence this has on prey populations, and if there is a possible net benefit for threatened species conservation.
Arid Recovery staff have been conducting track transects for the Dingo Project for five years. Covering a substantial area on foot at both the 37km² Dingo Pen and the control site at Mulgaria Station, an indication of dingo, fox, cat, rabbit and small mammal activity is derived from the presence of tracks along 200m transects. The three main habitat sites assessed are dune, swale and creek line, with ATV’s and 4wd vehicles darting from one site to the next.
The track transects are dragged in the afternoon, and then checked for the following two consecutive mornings. A count of rabbit and small mammal tracks is conducted, and predator tracks are recorded as a presence or absence.
Last week saw the completion of the final dingo track transects. Warm, calm days provided ideal weather conditions to finish the last of the data collection. Arid Recovery Education and Community Officer Anni Walsh assisted with track transects at the control site on Mulgaria Station.
“The completion of the last of the track transects for the Dingo Project is a huge success. It is always a gamble conducting such a large scale track monitoring session during this time of year, as November is generally a month of strong winds in Roxby Downs. However, the weather was kind to us and transects were completed in four days, with an initial first look at the data suggesting good results!”
Arid zone ecologist Katherine Moseby will now input the latest results alongside the five year data set, closely analysing trends in predator activity and prey abundance. The results will then be published in a peer reviewed paper.
To find out more about the Dingo Project, take a look at Katherine’s previous dingo paper Interactions between a Top Order Predator and Exotic Mesopredators in the Australian Rangelands
Over the past few months a group of volunteers have been watching the amazing site of thousands of Flock Bronzewings swarming across the arid landscape north of the Arid Recovery Reserve.
AR's resident cinematography, Travis Hague, has put together some footage of the phenomena.
For more information about Flock Bronzewings, become a member of Arid Recovery and receive the new edition of the AR newsletter, with a feature story on these amazing birds.
This Tuesday saw Roxby Downs’ first Community Snake Awareness Session and we were amazed at the turnout. Over 65 people attended the talk by Living with Wildlife principal Geoff Coombe and were even privileged enough to meet and greet some of his scaly companions. Of note; the Red-bellied Black Snake, a Tiger Snake, and the Western Brown fondly named Psycho.
Throughout the presentation we learned about not only the types of snakes we would find in Roxby and surrounds (the Mulga, Woma and Western Brown) but also how to avoid attracting them, what to wear in situations in which you might find one, and what to do if you get bitten.
Roxby's introduction to Living with Wildlife
For those of you who were unable to attend, these are a few of the most important things to remember when it comes to snakes and when dealing with them:
- It’s true that snakes are more scared of you then you are of them! Respect them and you shouldn’t have a problem!
- Stand still when you get too close, as Geoff mentioned, snakes don’t go around biting what they think are trees!
- Don’t give them places to hide where you don’t want them going. e.g. large bushes or garbage piles close to the house (they are only trying to hide and get out of the sun!)
- Wear appropriate clothing when out bushwalking etc. (long pants and closed in shoes) and;
- If you DO get bitten, apply appropriate first aid and get help immediately, don’t clean the wound (the venom on your skin can help identify the snake that bit you) and try not to move (you don’t want the venom to spread!).
A native Woma Python meeting the crowd
A big thankyou to Geoff, and his assistant Greg, and everyone who came to support this initiative, we hope that you came away with some valuable information and can feel a little more confident if faced by a snake. We sure learnt a lot!!
And if you want to know more feel free to visit Geoff Coombe’s Living with Wildlife website at http://www.livingwithwildlife.net/.
Getting up close and personal to a Woma Python
Arid Recovery is a unique arid zone conservation project based near Roxby Downs. The fenced reserve spans approximately 123km2. Feral cats, foxes and rabbits have been eradicated from half of the area, into which several species of locally extinct species have been successfully reintroduced.
Arid Recovery is seeking applications from highly motivated and resourceful interns. The Arid Recovery Internship program operates over 14 months, with interns required to work following periods:
- This Summer - December 2013 through to February 2014
- 3 non-consecutive weeks throughout the year (during University holiday periods or other negotiated times)
- Next Summer - December 2014 through to February 2015
Objectives of the intern program include:
- Feral control and reserve maintenance conducted on a regular basis
- Trapping of native threatened marsupials, in particular assisting with the bettong external release project
- Involvement in the organisation and operation of the annual small vertebrate trapping program
- Coordination and control of Buffel Grass and other weeds of significance within the Roxby Downs region
Eligible applicants must:
- Currently be completing the second year of a three year study program, or third year of a four year study program
- Have a current drivers licence and be willing to undertake 4WD training
- It is desirable that applicants have some experience with ethical handling of animals
- Be physically fit and willing to undertake labour intensive tasks
- Capable in the use of maps and GPS for navigation
- Be willing to commit to living in Roxby Downs (SA) for three months over two consecutive summers, and return to undertake three weeks of field work throughout the year
Benefits: Return transport from Adelaide to Roxby Downs (additional transport from other capital cities may be negotiated), on-site accommodation and modest stipend to cover food and incidentals.
Applications: must include a CV and one page letter addressing the position criteria which can be found at www.aridrecovery.org.au. Applications and any queries can be forwarded to Arid Recovery, PO Box 147, Roxby Downs, 5727 or email@example.com or phone (08) 8671 8282.
Applications close 5pm Monday 30th September 2013
The rich red sands of the Roxby Downs area are a photographers dream, providing contrasting with a vivid blue sky or melding into one of those well-known rich outback sunsets. They are also the perfect tool for monitoring the movements of all who live within the Arid Recovery reserve.
Every three months the staff head out as the sun rises, trekking across kilometres of sand dunes counting the numbers of animal tracks crossing the drag line established the afternoon before. Not only must the number of tracks crossing the drag be counted but also who made them including bettongs, bilbies, stick- nest rats, western barred bandicoots for our feral free sections and rabbits and cats in our Red Lake Expansion and Dingo Pen.
The Arid Recovery track transects were established in 1999/2000 after the reintroduction of the Stick-nest Rat, Burrowing Bettong and Bilby. Initially, the species were monitored using radio collars but after 6 months the collars were removed. Initial attempts to monitor all species using cage and large Elliott trapping found that trapping was time consuming and many animals were trap shy. Trapping also did not sample species consistently with burrowing bettong lining up to get into traps and bilbies avoiding them like the plague. The dunes at Arid Recovery have soft orange dune crests which are perfect for recording track imprints. All reintroduced mammal species at Arid Recovery could be identified by their distinctive tracks making track transects an ideal way of monitoring post release changes in distribution and relative abundance.
Helen Crisp shows Tyson Brown how to measure bibly tracks. Photo by: Kylie Piper
We established 10km of walking track transects in the Main Exclosure which were sampled on the morning after a windy day and calm night. The wind blew away the old tracks so that only fresh tracks were recorded. Later a quad bike was used to drag a bar and chain over the dunes to obliterate old tracks. This made things easier as it meant we didn’t have to wait for a windy day to do our sampling! Transects were conducted up to 4 times each year and the number of tracks of each species were recorded per kilometre. Later, we extended the transects to include the first and northern expansion as animals were reintroduced into those areas. Recently, we have also included measurements of bilby tracks along transects to determine population demographics and breeding events at the time of sampling.
Although track transects do not result in a population estimate they are extremely useful for determining fluctuations in abundance, relative abundance of different species and population spread across the reserve. They can also be calibrated to population estimates derived through capture mark recapture and removal studies. Transects have the added advantage of also recording any feral animal tracks, allowing for swift removal of any incursions. The transects have now been sampled for over 10 years and I am currently analysing long term trends as part of my PhD. I am comparing distribution and abundance of tracks with post-release factors such as rainfall, time since release and temperature. Results will help determine the most effective reintroduction strategies for each species and increase our understanding of the dynamics of pre-European arid zone mammal fauna.
Identifying animal tracks isn’t always easy for beginners but here is what we are looking out for:
Burrowing Bettongs have two large hind feet and move in a hopping motion, leaving footprints similar to a kangaroo. Often you will see the mark of their tail dragging in the sand behind them.
Greater Stick-nest Rats have small footprints similar to those of a cat with a central pad surrounded by four smaller pads for their toes.
Greater Bilbies have large toenails on their hind feet which leave a distinct drag mark in the sand as they hop.
Western- barred Bandicoot hind feet leave an odd sideways V shaped print as they scamper along.
Although usually well known for our hot, dry and dusty days, over the last month Roxby Downs and the rest of the arid zone received a good soaking. It began on the first day of June when 45mm of rain fell filling the flats and making roads slippery and wet. By the end of a few weeks we had hit over 70mm of rain and despite a few warm days the water stayed and the roads remained too wet to trek to far around or inside the Reserve.
Field Officer, Craig Wyatt, learnt first-hand how boggy the roads around the Reserve can become after rain.
With the high amount of rainfall we received, the Trilling Frogs (Neobatrachus centralis) came out to play. It might be hidden away underground most of the year but after decent rain it’s not difficult to believe this amphibian is actually the most abundant vertebrate in the Roxby Downs region.
This small desert-dwelling frog grows up to approximately 5 cm long and burrows itself below the surface, with one Arid Recovery study finding them buried up to 90cm deep. They protect themselves from dehydration by secreting a substance from their pores which builds a protective cocoon around their bodies. Possibly surviving for years like this underground, the Trilling Frogs will surface with rain.
Trilling Frog (Neobatrachus centralis)
If it has been quite a long time since the last rain, the frogs will require quite a reasonable amount of rain before they burrow to the surface, whereas if rains have been more frequent they will not require as much rainfall to bring them out. Once on the surface they can commonly be found on the edges of clay pans and gilgais, calling out with a trilling noise to their friends. Knowing that the water may not last for a long time in desert conditions, Trilling Frogs breed and spawn rapidly, with young developing quite quickly compared to other species.
As the water begins to dry up, the frogs will once again bury themselves within the soil, possibly waiting years before the next rains come again.
On World Environment Day we say thank you to the many wonderful people and organisations that support the work that we do in arid zone restoration.
Alistair Pillow, Peter Cahalan, Anita DeZilva, Nick Jones. Photo by Millie Thomas
On World Environment Day, June 5, Arid Recovery hosted a Supporter’s Night to say thank you to all the businesses and organisations that support the work of Arid Recovery. Recent rain prevented the event from being held at the Arid Recovery Reserve, so the Olympic Dam Football Club kindly donated their clubrooms for the night.
The outdoor entertaining area was transformed to create an ‘Arid Recovery experience’, with a temporary floppy-top fence bought in, skins, furs, maps and posters on show. Our resident bilby ‘Charlie’ as well as his taxidermy friends the stick nest rat, bettong and a bearded dragon were gathered from their usual home at the local Visitor Information Centre and proudly put on display to show some of the threatened and local fauna that have established populations inside the Reserve.
“Arid Recovery relies heavily on donations from individuals, groups, businesses and corporations, with every kind of donation, be it money, equipment, materials or labour all highly appreciated” explains Community and Education Assistant Sam Secker. “By hosting the Supporter’s Night we had the opportunity to show our gratitude and give a little bit back to the generous people and businesses that support our work.”
About 45 guests braved the wintry conditions to come along to the event. As the spots of rain eased, guests gathered under the stars to be entertained by local musicians ‘Who’s on First’ and to meet with other locals and businesses. Hungry bellies were satisfied and wintry blues warmed with homemade pumpkin soup, gourmet kangaroo sausage and rocket rolls, and lamb cutlets with native herbs and spices, impressing all that attended. Guests came from far and wide, including local businesses from down the road, and some special guests in from as far as Adelaide for the night. Arid Recovery board members Garry Winter and Professor Bob Hill, the new AR Board representative from the University of Adelaide, also made the trip to Roxby Downs to show their appreciation for the support that we receive.
Photo by Millie Thomas
“It was great to have all our supporters in one place and give us the opportunity to mingle with one another,” grinned Sam. “I would especially like to say thanks to the people that made the night possible, Greyhound, Roxby Motor Inn, Alliance Airlines, ‘Who’s On First’, Woolworths, the Olympic Dam Football Club and of course the fabulous Arid Recovery staff.”
During Feral Cat month we have highlighted the impacts that feral cats have on our native wildlife, but what about responsible cat ownership?
Should domestic cats be treated in the same way as domestic dogs, with restrictions on their movements and laws to ensure they are registered or desexed?
It has been established that cats are quite capable at travelling great distances, with feral cats being recorded in almost all habitats across Australia. If allowed by their owner, domestic cats can also wander around residential areas at their own leisure.
“Whilst away from their owners prying eyes, domestic cats can resort back to natural instincts as cats are hunters and even a well fed pet cat will hunt any fauna it comes across if outside." a representative of the Roxby Downs Council explains. "These cats can have the same impact on the environment as do ‘feral’ cats in the bush, and also create other issues with urinating or defecating in inappropriate places, fighting with each other at night and causing a nuisance with other domestic pets."
The Roxby Downs Council has worked hard to develop a local dog and cat by-law, which helps to reduce the impact pet cats may have on the local environment. Just like a dog, pet cats in Roxby Downs must be registered. When applying for registration owners must also provide proof of micro-chipping and desexing. Cats are not to be found ‘wandering at large’ which means they either need to be secure in your backyard, or on a leash.
If the cat is found or trapped whilst wondering at large, it will be taken to the vet to be checked for a micro-chip, this will enable the owner to be notified. If the cat is not micro-chipped then the cat will be retained for a period of no more than 72hrs. If an owner has not been found, then under the by-law the cat can be euthanized or re-housed (after being de-sexed and micro-chipped and undergoing a health and behaviour check). This year to date there have been 19 friendly stray cats captured, 8 of which had microchips, and 54 feral cats found ‘wondering at large’ in Roxby.
Roxby Downs local veterinarian Erica says, “If your cat is desexed, micro chipped and registered, then you are well on your way to responsible pet ownership, and to not do this is actually illegal in Roxby Downs”. Erica also explains that “Cats do perfectly well inside and the cost of a good cat run is cheaper than vet bills for an injured cat or the fine that can be incurred if your cat is found wondering at large.”
Local archaeologists and cat owners Heather and Oliver have built an outdoor cage for their cats, which allows them to roam the backyard without disturbing the local wildlife. Their “fur babies” are kept occupied indoors with banana and mango boxes for scratching posts and are regularly walked on their leashes around the streets of Roxby.
Members of the public can hire traps from the Council if they have cats roaming around their property. If they catch a cat they can contact council who will pick it up and take it to the vet to be checked for details.