Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Are they worth looking for?

Not every species quickens the pulse of naturalists and would-be monster hunters.

You don't, for instance, hear of too many people desperate to re-discover rare species of slug, but there are countless folk fascinated by and in hot pursuit of more glamorous - or as an article in Nature magazine puts it this week in 'Looking beyond the glamour of conservation', 'charismatic' - species such as the extinct Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus).

"People just haven't thought hard enough about where they should put their effort," says Diana Fisher, a mammal ecologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who led the study. The findings are published in Proceedings of the Royal Society today. "There is no chance that species are still alive that have been looked for 20 times or more."

And she may have a point - should 'we' be expending time, money and other resources trying to find or resurrect extinct species when there are plenty of MIA mammals of a more recent vintage capable of being rediscovered and nurtured from the brink of extinction?

Perhaps. But it is species like the Thylacine that serve as a laser-like focus for the conservation movement - and remind us of the dire consequences of failure.

And there is a very real possibility that remnant populations of the Thylacine exist. Do we consign our most famous marsupial to certain oblivion or keep looking 'just in case'?

Regardless, the Tasmanian Tiger is something of a cryptozoological Holy Grail, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.

Govt defends raid on Dingo campaigner's house

NOOSA: Dingo protection campaigner Jennifer Parkhurst will plead not guilty to more than 40 criminal charges when she fronts court on September 9.

Ms Parkhurst, a vocal lobbyist for greater protection of Fraser Island dingoes, this week broke her silence over the trial, which comes almost a year after state government officials raided her Rainbow Beach home seizing photos, computers, journals and cameras.

Noosa MP and opposition environment spokesman Glen Elmes and a group of Noosa locals continue to support her cause.

The Department of Environment and Resource Management allege the wildlife photographer and Save Fraser Island Dingoes Association member interfered with and fed dingoes on the World Heritage listed sand island over a 13-month period.

If found guilty she faces fines of up to $300,000 or two years’ imprisonment.

Ms Parkhurst told The Noosa Journal this week efforts to have her trial adjourned to allow her defence counsel time to review five folders of prosecution material had been unsuccessful.

"As it stands they’ve set the trial date for September 9, which gives us less than a couple of months to go through their case, which they’ve compiled over eight months with a team of up to five people," she said.

Ms Parkhurst said she lost a member of her counsel after Legal Aid was denied, however Noosa-based Ocean Legal this week confirmed it had joined Ms Parkhurst’s defence after reading about her case in The Noosa Journal.

Kristy Crabb, Barrister of Sunshine Coast Barrister’s Chambers Maroochydore, has also joined her defence, Ocean Legal spokeswoman Marilyn Nuske confirmed.

Ms Parkhurst’s Melbourne-based father’s attempt to re-mortgage his house to fund his daughter’s defence had been unsuccessful, but letters of support arrived daily.

"Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from people telling me to keep up the fight,’’ she said. "I’m so humbled. These are people I don’t even know, and I’m so grateful to have so much support.

"There have been times when I just burst into tears.

"Emails are still coming in from people from all spheres of life even little old ladies.’‘

A book on Ms Parkhurst’s Fraser Island dingo research has been canned due to legal concerns and she said she had lost seven years worth of work seized in the raid.

The case and her concerns about the island, first reported by The Noosa Journal last year, have made national headlines.

Ms Parkhurst has won widespread support from wildlife groups, Aboriginal elders, Noosa locals, civil libertarian lawyer Terry O’Gorman and MP Glen Elmes who previously described the raid on her home as "Gestapo tactics".

Check out the Save the Fraser Island Dingoes page:

Plight of the Dingo

We were impressed with Australian Alison Oborn's dedication to the preservation of the dingo, Australia's own (albeit imported) wild dog. Here's a piece she wrote challenging the argument that the dingo should be exterminated:

"The dingo isn't native to Australia and only arrived here 3500-4500 years ago. ­ It is just a mongrel dog from Asia and we should just kill the whole bloody lot.

I often hear and read this stance used as an argument as to why the dingo should have no place here on Australian shores and should in fact be kept on the vermin list. It is very effective in convincing the average person that this animal is feral and non native to Australia and so should be classified in the newly arrived feral category such as the fox, the cat and the rabbit.

It is used time and time again in the belief that it will help their cause to eradicate this ecologically important animal, and many do actually accept this without putting too much thought into just how long 4000 years really is in the time line.

Let me help put this into perspective for you - let's take a brief look at history.

We will start at approximately 4000 years ago when the dingo was thought to have first arrived on our shores:·
  • The Sumerians were still in existence, although about to disappear as recognisable people after being over run by the Amorites.
  • Babylon existed and was heavily into agriculture·
  • Troy was also in existence.·
  • The Sahara desert was still fertile and green.·
  • The wheel was just being introduced, especially on the Egyptian chariots. ·
  • Although metal was being introduced for tools in certain circles and areas, the average person was still using stone tools.
  • During the dingo's first 1000 years here in Australia, great names such as Confucius, King Solomon, Homer, Pythagoras, Ramses II were living out their lives around the world.
  • During the next thousand years the likes of Socrates and Plato and Alexander the Great were now living out their lives too.
  • The dingo had already been in Australia approx 1500-2000 years when Stonehenge was being built in the UK, when Sparta (yes, that nation featured in the movie 300) was still strong and the Roman Empire was contemplating expansion.

I could point out many more events that give you an idea of just how long the dingo really has been Australian, but I think you will be starting to understand the reality of how ludicrous this non-native argument is by now.

These animals have been on our shores a long time and have certainly had plenty of time to adapt and become an integral part of the ecosystem. Studies show that they keep the ecosystem healthy and to lose our apex predator would impact greatly on this fragile land.

Some elements of the farming community will also have us believe that these dingoes are responsible for the 20 native species of fauna that have disappeared off our shores over the last 200 years or so. They would have you believe that the dingo is munching it's way relentlessly through our wildlife and so is a scourge to the nation.

The question I would be asking these people is how come this has only become a major problem in the last 200 years or so and not for the prior 4000 years before that?

Why is it that this appalling extinction rate seems to coincide with the arrival of white Europeans to this shore, who brought with them European farming practices, which were never sustainable or suitable for such an ancient and fragile continent.

I will finish with one more important event to remember to bring things into true perspective, our dingo had already been trotting round and adapting to our Australian bush for approximately 2000 years before the most famous name known to the western world was born in Bethlehem.

Yes...our dingo was well established here in our ecosystem when Jesus Christ was born and true Christianity as we know it began.

Surely after all this time, the dingo has earned a title of Australian Native and not the 'feral pest' that it has at the moment.

Maybe instead of driving yet another mammalian species into extinction, we should be finding a middle ground with the agricultural industry and the environmentalists and put these wrongs right and save this magnificent species before all we are left with are photos and the condemnation of future generations."

Well said Alison!

Visit her Facebook page here:

You can also read an enlightening article about how the dingo may be helping to save other Australian native animals here:

And another thing - look how smart they are!

On a final note - guess what dog breed features a dingo in its lineage? The Red and Blue Heeler (also known as the Australian Cattle Dog)! By crossing native Dingoes with Collies and other herding dogs, Australian George Elliott developed the Red Heeler, also known as the Australian Cattle Dog, in 1840. Farmers were impressed with the breed’s toughness and work ethic, and they quickly became popular as cattle herders. Red and Blue Heelers continue to be popular today among farmers and pet owners, who value their intelligence and companionship.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

CFZ WW leopard hair update

Cast your minds back to the Weird Weekend in August, this year attended by Aussies Rebecca and Mike who were spruiking their book, Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers.

On the August 17, CFZ Director Jon Downes announced that Danish Zoologist Lars Thomas had examined hair samples found in Huddisford Woods near Woolsery, and pronounced them to be leopard.

The hairs (which were found by Lars, naturalist and big cat researcher Jon McGowan and a team known as the Four-Teans) were offered to any research group or academic institution who wanted to try and verify Lars's findings.

The first person to contact Jon was Dr Ross Barnett from Durham University who has done DNA analysis on them, and has confirmed that they are Pantherine, probably leopard.

Dr Barnett is now carrying out further tests to establish the species and subspecies for certain and a full announcement by Jon will be made then.

Stay tuned!

In the meantime you can read about Lars's analysis at the Fortean Times website.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

'Barefoot Bushman' dead

The 'Barefoot Bushman', crocodile hunter Malcolm Douglas, has died after the car he was travelling in crashed into a tree on his property in Western Australia.

WA Police have confirmed Douglas's vehicle crashed into a tree at the Malcolm Douglas Wilderness Wildlife Park in Broome about 6:20am on Thursday.

For more than 40 years, Douglas, also known as the "barefoot bushman", trekked across the Australian outback documenting his adventures through dozens of wildlife documentaries and television shows.

His television shows were immensely popular with young Australians and would-be adventurers.

The 69-year-old's Crocodile Park opened in 1983 to enormous success, with tourists from all over the world flocking to the park to see and feed his crocodiles.

Later in life, Douglas was often overshadowed by the popularity of The Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, who garnered global popularity with his exuberant demeanour and fearless behaviour.

However Douglas was alway seen as the man who set the mould for adventurers to come.

"What you see is what you get," he told Fairfax in 2009.

"I'm not fake and I don't pre-plan takes, it's all real. There's no helicopter on standby if something goes wrong. In places like the Kimberley one mistake and you're dead."

He was virtually an overnight success after his first wildlife show, Across The Top, was screened in 1976.

"I was filming Aboriginal people killing kangaroos and drinking the blood because there wasn't any water," he said.

"No-one had seen anything like it and they loved it."

Douglas was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004 and told he had 18 months to live.

But just as he overcame the merciless terrain of the Australian outback and its venomous snakes and volatile crocs, Douglas beat his predatory disease.

"It changes your attitude too," he told the ABC while battling his illness.

"You try and remain calmer. You try and appreciate life. You appreciate every day, you know? Because, from now on, I could have been dead, and I'm, you know ... I'm still kickin'."

Douglas is survived by his wife Valerie and two adult children, Amanda and Lachlan.

Vale Malcolm!

Baby quolls come out to play - VIC

Zoologist Chris Humfrey doesn't recommend keeping tiger quolls as pets.

Despite their size, the small carnivores' aggressive nature means they're inclined to attack whatever crosses their path.

Mr Humfrey breeds the species, the lesser-known cousin of the Tasmanian tiger. He said quoll numbers had dwindled due to habitat destruction, poisoning and foxes and cats attacking their offspring and spreading diseases.

Mr Humphrey is hand-rearing two of the 17 baby quolls, named Quincy and Queenie.

Chris runs - a wildlife education business.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Mayor discovers new frog in NT

Darwin Lord Mayor and Frog Watch co-ordinator Graeme Sawyer has discovered a new species of frog on the Napier Peninsula in Arnhem Land, but warns it's already under threat from the exotic cane toad.

"It is a bit different from anything else we have seem in the Northern Territory," he said.

"Whilst it is exciting to find a new species, we have significant concerns about the fact that the site of this new species is just being invaded by cane toads, and we know nothing about the life cycle of this frog and possible impacts from things like cane toads."

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Tasmanian Devils set for extinction?

A TASMANIAN devil expert fears the species will become extinct in the wild despite multi-million-dollar efforts to save it from disease.

Save the Tasmanian Devil program senior keeper Jocelyn Hockley says work to establish a captive insurance population will stop the species suffering the same fate as the Tasmanian tiger.

"An amazing amount of work has been done, but I am not sure if there is any more that can be done," Dr Hockley said as Tasmania marked Threatened Species Day.

"The devil facial tumour disease is moving and changing and the species' survival depends on how the disease evolves as it moves west."

Five Tasmanian scientists are lobbying the State and Federal Governments to protect more forest from logging to give the state's remaining healthy Tasmanian devils a fighting chance to survive.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Killer Whale who cut a deal

On today's Sydney Morning Herald website is this engrossing story about a killer whale that forged an unlikely alliance with a group of Australian whale hunters.

Eighty years ago this week - on Thursday, September 18, 1930 - The Sydney Morning Herald reported the death of one of the most eccentric celebrities of NSW. The body of ''Old Tom'' was found washed ashore near Eden. The paper described him as ''the king of the far-famed pack of Twofold Bay killers'' and ''the last of his tribe''.

The story, ''King of the Killers'', said, ''For over 100 years he and others of the pack, at one time numbering as many as 30'' rendered an enormous service to the community by intercepting migrating whales and trapping them in the bay.

Since the 1840s, the whalers had abided by what locals call ''the law of the tongue''. When the killer whales had helped them with a kill, the whalers would tie the carcass to a buoy overnight allowing the orcas to take their feed.

Both benefited, Smith explains, because the killer whales only ate the lips and the tongue - the keenest meat on a baleen whale, leaving the whalers to harvest the profitable blubber and whalebone later.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Australia's Lost Giants

Seven-foot-tall kangaroos, enormous flightless birds, and a predator that could kill them all - meet Australia's extinct megafauna.

Did the Ice Age kill them off, or were humans to blame?

Read about Australia's megafauna here:

Among the skilfully recreated menagerie is one of our favourites, Thylacoleo carnifex.

Check out the excellent National Geographic picture gallery of Australia's Lost Giants:

Many of the drawings are the work of talented twins Adrie and Alfons Kennis. Check out their website here:

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

September 7 - Threatened Species Day

A sobering reminder of how fragile many species are...

September 7, 1936 was a historic day for Australia's endemic wildlife.

It was a day of no return, not for some ground-breaking discovery or the passing of a famous celebrity, but rather the extinction of a species cursed by hysteria, greed and apathy.

For at least two million years, the thylacine – Tasmanian tiger – had roamed the Australian continent. Humans first came ashore some 46,000 years ago. Our megafauna began to decline, marking the start of our Earth’s 6th mass extinction. Unlike the last one, which finished off the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, this one is not caused by a wandering asteroid or comet, super-volcano or other natural phenomenon. It is caused by us.

"Australia, we now know, was the first continent to be stripped of its giants … rhino-sized marsupial diprotodons, massive kangaroos, six-meter-long goannas and horned tortoises as long as a Volkswagen Beetle … Thus, in its first forty millennia, the sixth extinction ran a wild and deadly course, exterminating the world’s giants. Australia lost 95 per cent of its land-animal genera weighing more than forty-five kilograms…" Dr Tim Flannery.

As the sixth mass extinction progresses, the thylacine disappeared from the continent, about 3000 years ago, leaving only the Tasmanian tiger population still co-existing with the early Aborigines.

Since European colonisation on Tasmania in 1803, the 'tiger' was exhaustively shot or trapped by sheep farmers paranoid of the marsupial predator. Whole-scale extermination was encouraged by private and state bounties, and lucrative rewards from international museums and zoos. Competition with feral dogs and diseases among the remaining, weakened populations, all contributed to its demise.

The last confirmed record of a wild tiger came from a farmer who killed the animal in 1930.

Six years later, the thylacine was finally granted legal protection. This came far too late. In the same year - on September 7, 1936 - the last surviving Tasmanian tiger on Earth died in Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo after 12 years of captivity.

The thylacine was gone merely 131 years after the first European encountered it. In 1996, Australia declared September 7 as National Threatened Species Day, in commemoration of this tragic loss.

Friday, 3 September 2010


Tania Poole -Central Victoria

Here, I interview Peter and Pam, a couple I know through some friends. Ironically, Josie Harris who I interviewed on my last ‘Tales from the Antipodes’ (see posting on 24th May 2010) is connected with this one – Peter is Josie’s boss at Ballarat Secondary College and Josie told me what Peter and Pam had seen. I spoke to Peter and Pam back in March, and heard their story about the possible sighting of a Thylacine. Peter is a very intelligent, sensible man, who is rather a sceptic, so I can’t help but understand his curiosity of this sighting – as far as I know he did not report it, probably because he did not think it credible enough.

Interview with Peter and Pam Waugh

Tania: So where was this?

Peter: This was on the West side of the Grampians, so that’s the dry side, where the Grampians slopes down. The East side has the more lush steep cliffs. It was probably 1981. It was the end of summer, February, March, that time of year. It was late afternoon – not dark.

Pam: It was not yet dusk

P: It was still light. Because it was summer, it was maybe 7pm. We’d been camping all weekend and were heading back to Ballarat.

T: Were you heading South?

P: No, We would have been heading north, up Red Rock Road to pick up the main road that goes from Zumsteins to Hall's Gap to Ballarat. It was a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, not one of the main Grampian roads.

Pa: I don’t remember it being heavy with trees. It was scrub.

P: Yes, it was very open, the scrub wasn’t thick. Scattered gum tress, She-oaks, boulders here and there, like the You Yangs Ranges.

T: Not a tall or dense forest?

P: No. The left was heading into farmland. We were heading north on this road, and then we saw this movement to my right, to the East. We saw this animal come running down across the grass, it wasn’t hidden by trees, it was well ahead of us, we were driving 80Kms an hour. And then it crossed the road in front of us. It was not very distracted by us, but maybe the car had flushed it out?

Pa: We were not that close to it, how far?

P: 100 metres

T: Ahead of you?

P: Close enough to get a look at it

T: So you recognised it?

Pa: No, we didn’t know what it was.

P: We looked at each other coz we thought, the way it ran; it did not run like a dog.

Pa: It did not run like a fox, it did not run like anything we’d seen. It was really different. It was quite large, it wasn’t small.

P: It was grey-ish. It would have been 2.5 - 3 feet long, big head, tail, dog shaped, but it did not run like a dog and that was what really attracted our attention.

Pa: First of all, I thought it was a strange pony, because it was that sort of galloping, very fluid motion, it wasn’t trotting.

P: It was loping.

T: Was it a Tiger? I mean, a Thylacine, or a Big Cat?

P: No, it wasn’t a cat. It was grey in colour.

T: Did it have stripes?

P: Couldn’t see them from where we were

T: Didn’t have a long tail like a cat?

Pa: No, not like a cat.

T: Stiff straight tail, stuck out the back?

P: Yeah

Pa: Well, it was hard to tell

P: The way it was running

Pa: Because of what we remember from later, and what you imagine.

P: I stopped the car, and we watched it run off down through the scrub and probably kept it in sight for 2 to 3 minutes as it just disappeared. From what I’ve seen of pictures of tigers, I would be 99% sure that that’s what we saw. And that’s with me being totally and utterly sceptical of there being any surviving Thylacines anywhere. I haven’t been able to find anything else that would have matched with what I saw. So the rationalist in me says it couldn’t have been a Thylacine, but…

Pa: But we don’t know what it was

P: Totally inexplicable. It’s a very remote part of the Grampians. It’s on a road where you might see only 2 or 3 cars on one day. It was late afternoon, just when the kangaroos were starting to come out.

Pa: But we said ‘What was that?’

P: We thought at the time ‘We’ve just seen a Thylacine.’ Had the big head. I can’t remember now in detail the way it ran, loping would be the best description.

T: But it was still something you’d never seen before, the way it ran, and not since.

P: No, not since. And I’ve never seen a Thylacine run. If I did I could compare it.

Pa: We’ve been all over Australia on all sorts of remote roads and it wasn’t something you’d ordinarily come across on an outback road. It was very pale sand coloured.

P: I saw it a grey sand colour. But it wasn’t a cat, and we saw it for such a long time.

T: Did it run very fast?

P & Pa: Yes

T: But you saw it for a few minutes?

P: We saw it coming down the hill and thought, ‘Good God what is that?’

Pa: It came down at an angle, diagonally down the slope. We stopped to watch it.

T: So obviously it was so strange, it made you stop to watch it, and you thought of a Thylacine straight away.

P: Yeah. Had it been clearly a recognisable dog, I would not even have remembered it or be telling you this now.

Pa: Another story we’ve heard was our friend Ian Smith, who has passed on since. He was VERY positive he frightened one (Thylacine) out of his chicken shed in Mt Clear (Ballarat). He saw it clearly.

P: In the early 70’s.

Pa: No, much earlier. The 50’s, I think.

T: Wow! Mt Clear would not have really been much of a suburb of Ballarat then like it is now.

Pa: True. He was positive he saw one.

T: Thanks for your story!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Alas, poor Cedric - devil killed by tumour

The nation's best known Tasmanian Devil has succumbed to the cancer that's devastating its species. For the past three years the devil known as Cedric has shown an unusually strong resistance to the deadly facial tumour disease.
Cedric's death is a setback to scientists hoping to develop a vaccine to stop the spread of the disease. But some observers say that was always a long shot and that other steps must be taken to save the species from extinction.


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