Dec 12, 2017

Wild Devil Recovery Continues

Volunteers dismantling devil releasing yards
Volunteers dismantling devil releasing yards

Our Launceston team has been assisting with the Wild Devil Recovery (WDR) project in Tasmania’s North East. This project is part of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program and is just one part of the recovery of this iconic Australian species.

Throughout this year, 33 devils were released back into the wild at Mt William National Park and the wukalina area. These devils were monitored by satellite for their movements and locations to learn more about the animal’s behaviour, and assess the success of the release. In past releases, we sadly had road kill fatalities as the devils went about defining their new home range. As a result, we trialled some new techniques in an attempt to reduce unnecessary devil deaths. In November 2017, the team were proud to announce that after several months since the last release, there have been no reported road kill of any of the released devils. Great job team!

Our volunteers recently assisted with the dismantling of some devil releasing yards. We quickly discovered that devil releasing yards are pretty specialised contraptions. They have to prevent devils from climbing over the fence, digging under the fence and chewing through the fence. At the same time, the yards need to make the devils feel relaxed as it is important the devils get used to the surroundings before being set free. Our volunteers armed themselves with wire-cutters, pliers and crowbars to pack up the yard for relocation to another site. We disconnected chicken wire, rolled up rubber ground matting, dismantled galvanised panels and stacked them for a forklift/truck to take away.

A scientist working on the WDR project, Mr Lee, was there to guide us through our tasks. Over three days of volunteering, we learned an enormous amount about devils from Mr Lee and the highs and lows of the broader devil program. Doug, one of our long-time volunteers, jumped at the chance to assist: “it is wonderful to get inside information about the current state of the devils and ask questions directly to the scientists, but most of all, I love being able to lend a hand to the recovery of our devils”.

New volunteer, Ross, is a new Tasmanian having just moved over from New Zealand. Ross had only heard about devils, and didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to volunteer on this project: “to get up close and learn about these amazing marsupials was an opportunity too good to miss. Being outdoors in the middle of a National Park helping the devils – life is good!”.

But the success of this project is just one small win in a much bigger challenge and we have more projects in store next year. For now, though, Mr Lee and the Save the Tasmanian Devil team, as well as all of us at Conservation Volunteers Australia would like to thank our generous GlobalGiving donors for your ongoing support. You really have made a difference to the survival of this iconic species.

We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season, and we look forward to bringing you more good news in 2018.

Great team work!
Great team work!
Dec 12, 2017

Helping to Manage Wombat Mange

Volunteers surveying wombats
Volunteers surveying wombats

Areas of Tasmania’s Wombat population are experiencing severe outbreaks of wombat mange, where over 90% of the local wombats have died due to the disease. The reason for the severe outbreaks is unknown, and while efforts are being made to help individual wombats, we are now focusing holistically on the wombat population across the entire island state of Tasmania. Conservation Volunteers Australia in conjunction with the University of Tasmania and the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment has teamed up to tackle the issue and gather much needed data to make long term strategic decisions that will benefit all wombats. 

We are now conducting wombat surveys twice a year across seven key locations around the state. Our aim is to help get a better understanding of mange prevalence at a population level. Surveys at each site are carried out over three days, and are done pre-dusk and repeated in the dark. Volunteers are also collecting samples of scats, which will be analysed to see if DNA has any impact on a wombat's susceptibility to contracting mange. The information obtained as part of this project will help determine best practice mange management across the state. 

When surveying wombats, our volunteers use binoculars, spotting scopes and spotlights at night to look for signs of hair-loss on the sides of the wombats. Interestingly, hair-loss on the backside of the wombat is not necessarily indicative of mange, as wombats will often take a bite at the rump of a nearby wombat as a territorial behaviour. When hair-loss is noticed, volunteers classify the severity of the hair-loss on 4 segments of the animal (rear, side, front, and head) on both sides of the body.  The scats (droppings) collected from each site are sent off to the lab for analysis where parasite egg counts will take place alongside the DNA testing.

Projects have been completed at Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area, Narawntapu National Park, Mt William National Park, Flinders Island, Central Plateau, Freycinet and Tasman Peninsula. It was encouraging to find healthy wombats with little or no sign of mange in several locations, but our surveys highlighted that mange is prevalent and severe in some individuals at Narawntapu National Park, Mt William National Park, Central Highlands and Flinders Island.

The data collected so far has been very insightful and valuable, but we need to continue this program to really gain a full picture of what is happening to these beloved marsupials across Tasmania. We’d like to thank all our wonderful volunteers who have braved the weather and late nights in remote areas to monitor these wombats. We would also like to thank our generous donors at Global Giving who are a crucial part of our success in this project - you really are helping to make a difference to the survival of our wombats!

We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season, and we look forward updating you on our progress in 2018.

Volunteers looking for mange
Volunteers looking for mange
Nov 13, 2017

Little Pygmy-possum!

Little Pygmy-possum, Matilda
Little Pygmy-possum, Matilda

As spring weather warms Victoria’s Little Desert, Little Pygmy-possums and other native animals are becoming more active, making this a perfect time to undertake wildlife monitoring for our Rewilding the Desert initiative. Wildlife monitoring is the most effective way to get a clear picture of the state of the desert ecosystem and the species that live in it.

Using humane catch and release methods and supervised by our experienced ecologists, our volunteer citizen scientists have been counting, measuring, recording and safely releasing mammals, reptiles and invertebrates, and recording data on vegetation, soils and habitat. This year’s trapping program has brought us another delight, this Little Pygmy Possum (pictured above) we nicknamed Matilda! Although Matilda is nocturnal and looks like she is asleep, she is actually in torpor; a type of short term hibernation. Matilda uses torpor to conserve energy when it’s too cold outside or there is a shortage of food.  Weighing in at only 4.5 grams (about the same as a dice), Matilda forages mainly on nectar and pollen from flowering plants - one of her favourites is the big bright banksia flowers like this Desert Banksia pictured below.

In other news, we are still preparing for our trial reintroduction planned for this time next year, but there is still much more work to be done. Before reintroductions begin, we need to make some critical upgrades to our external predator proof fences and improve our captive breeding and wildlife display facilities to have the capacity to acquire, house and breed these rare native animals. To make this happen we need your support to buy rolls of wire, netting, fence pins, posts and screws! Please consider sharing our story with your family and friends to help us achieve our goals and provide a wild future for our much loved native animals, like Matilda.

We’d like to say thank you again to our amazing supporters and donors! Without your support we cannot continue this critical project and help conserve Australia’s weird, wonderful and highly threatened native wildlife.

Desert Banksia
Desert Banksia
Matilda returning home
Matilda returning home
Volunteers checking pitfall traps
Volunteers checking pitfall traps

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