Happy Endangered Species Day!

Endangered Species DayLast Friday was international Endangered Species Day, designed to highlight the plight of many at-risk and critically endangered plants and animals. They are disappearing between 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate – with dozens going extinct every day. Over 40% of the world’s species are estimated to be at risk of extinction, primarily from human activities driving habitat loss, introduction of exotic species and global warming.

Australia is far from immune. In fact it is facing an extinction crisis, with the worst mammal extinction rate in the world: 30 native mammals have become extinct since European settlement. To put this in a global context, 1 out of 3 mammal extinctions in the last 400 years have occurred in Australia.

Rewilding Australia 1I love to write about our unique wildlife, and the people who fight to protect these birds and animals. My current work-in-progress explores the concept of rewilding. Rewilding means restoring habitats to their original condition (as much as possible) and reintroducing animals and plants that are locally extinct.

Rewilding Australia is a registered charity that supports the reintroduction of our apex species like devils and quolls. With the re-establishment of these predator species, combined with a range of large-scale fox and cat control programs, our other smaller Quollsmammals may then be able to survive. Farmers and community organisations from all around Australia are embracing this vision and pitching in to help. Some examples include predator-proof fencing, breeding programs and protecting wildlife corridors. Click here to read a story on an exciting quoll rewilding project.

I’m excited about the concept of not only conserving, but of actively rebuilding eco-systems. It has also given me the idea for my new book. I’m sure the challenges involved will make for some dramatic story-telling!


The Ugly Animal Preservation Society

Ugly Animal Preservation SocietyAn elephant is killed every fifteen minutes to supply an insatiable and unsustainable demand for ivory. A rhino is killed every eleven minutes for horns that have as much medicinal effect as my big toenail. Wild lions could be gone in fifteen years as we teeter on the brink of the world’s sixth mass extinction. But it’s not just the charismatic, iconic animals in trouble. Forget pandas – ugly animals should be protected too. The Ugly Animal Preservation Society draws attention to less adorable endangered species, and I can’t wait for the show to come to Australia!

Gob-faced squidConservation issues are usually pretty depressing, so it’s refreshing for a comedy evening to take a conservation twist – scientists dabbling in comedy and comedians dabbling in science. Each has to pick an endangered (and ugly) species, and has ten minutes to champion it. At the end the audience votes, and the winner becomes the mascot of that regional branch of the society. In London it’s the proboscis monkey. In Edinburgh, the branch’s mascot is Australia’s own gob-faced squid.  The comedians take different approaches – some try to prove that their animal is not so ugly. Others admit, “They are hideous, but you know what, some days I wake up a bit rough myself!” But the main thing is to draw attention to the plight of these rare animals. These are species people don’t know much about, yet they all play a vital part in our ecosystem.

Just because an animal is unattractive, doesn’t mean we can ignore it. Take humble earthworms for example. Without them, tonnes of rotting organic rubbish would build up within months. Fly maggots microbatperform a similar function. Micro-bats are worth billions of dollars to agriculture yearly, by eating their weight in insects each night, while fruit bats are the vital pollinators and seed-dispersers of Australia’s great forests. So spare a thought for the less sexy species. They’re important too!


Wombats In Trouble

wombat 1Last week, on a late night bus trip outside the Murraylands town of Mannum, I was thrilled to see several Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombats. Here at Pilyara, Common Wombats are thankfully just that – common. But I’d never seen their much rarer western cousins. Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombats (Lasiorhinus latifrons) are one of three species (The Northern Hairy-Nosed being the rarest, and close to extinction). They’re found in scattered areas of semiarid scrub and mallee from the eastern Nullarbor Plain to the New South Wales border. They are the faunal emblem of South Australia, and the smallest of all three wombat species.

wombat 2Currently, Southern Hairy-Nosed wombats are being affected by an unidentified disease outbreak. The most obvious symptoms are hair loss and emaciation. Internally the wombats are anaemic, and in some cases there is liver damage and heart disease. In many parts of their habitat, very few native grasses remain. Instead, the habitat is dominated by onion weed, horehound, and potato weed. It’s suspected that more frequent droughts and an increase in toxic weeds is causing many animals to starve to death.

wombat 3

Brigitte Stevens drove 25 hours to rescue Twinky. Photo Darryn Smitha

Wombats are an Aussie icon, but few people realise all the perils these gorgeous animals face: drought, floods, climate change, loss of habitat, disease, cars and culling – both legal and illegal. It’s not rocket science to see these animals are in trouble but thanks to the Wombat Awareness Organisation (WAO), there is hope!

wombat 4WAO is a wonderful charity established to help save the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat from extinction. Until WAO began in 2007, injured or distressed wombats were ignored or shot. Now WAO’s rescue service is available to every wombat in South Australia. Their rehabilitation centre is the largest wombat facility in the world, with the world’s largest free range wombat enclosure spreading over eleven acres. Wombats are nursed back to health and released into the wild if possible. Those requiring long term care can stay, digging burrows and sleeping in temperature controlled beds, in lush surrounds with ample native food in a supported environment. Donate to help the wombats here!

PS I’m heading off again tomorrow on another research trip up the Murray. This time, it’s a week on a houseboat, leaving from the historic port town of Echuca.