FAME/EXETEL Southern Ark Sponsorship -Three Monthly Report No 7.
October - December 2009
The major activity of the Southern Ark team during this reporting period has been the major annual wildlife monitoring program undertaken over six weeks in October-November. This is a mammoth undertaking: 360 hairtube grids are involved, each covering one hectare, with nine hairtubes established at each grid. There are 60 grids in each of six large study sites, each of which covers 20,000 hectares. Once established, the hairtubes are then checked each week over four weeks, and those hairtubes that have retained hair (or that have been affected by rain-splash) are replaced with fresh hairtubes. During each visit fresh bait (with a slightly different odour) is added to each tea-infuser that is used for each hairtube as a bait holder. The Southern Ark team employs 10 extra staff (Deakin University Wildlife Management students) to assist with the program, and pairs of staff worked out of 8 vehicles.
A total of 12,960 hairtubes are put out and/or checked, and 6,537 samples (51% of hairtubes put out) were sent to Barbara Triggs for identification. The analysis of the data from the final week has not yet been completed, but so far we have recorded the nationally endangered Southern Brown Bandicoot on 99 occasions and the nationally threatened Long-nosed Potoroos on 514 occasions. These results give us reason for real optimism, given that fox control has not been initiated in some of the sites.
Fire-fighting duties have also been unfortunately taking up our time with staff involved in the Dock Inlet fire (started on the 2nd of November, growing to 4,667 hectares), the Myrgatroyd Track fire (started on the 16th of December, growing to 6,694 hectares) the Keystone Track fire (started on the 22nd of December, and growing to 88 hectares), and the West Wingan Road fire (started on the 16th of December, growing to 10 hectares).
Fox control continues across the majority of the Southern Ark Area of Operation with only the Croajingolong Fox Management Sector remaining unpoisoned. This will change in the next month, following a trial in which we are trialling a new toxin called PAPP (Para-aminopropiophenone) which could be an alternative to 1080 for fox and cat control. The Southern Ark team have also been putting plenty of effort into fox control along the Far East Gippsland coastline, especially around the mouth of the Snowy River to protect Little Terns, Hooded Plovers and Pied Oystercatchers. Baiting foxes along the coast is proving to be challenging, as it appears that foxes focus their attention on scavenging along the high-tide mark, and it has taken them some time to notice our bait stations established in the dunes.
While not directly related to the sponsorship from FAME, here are a few highlights for the last three months work which I hope you find interesting:
Please find below a report on the most recent developments of the FAME/EXETEL sponsorship of the Southern Ark project.
Component 1 – Spotted-tailed Quoll Monitoring Program
Purchase of 30 remote digital cameras to monitor Spotted-tailed Quoll numbers at potential latrine sites ($24,000)
Purchase 30 digital remote cameras by April 2008.
Deploy 15 during the quoll breeding season in 2008 (May – August) at identified likely latrine sites.
Deploy 15 at other locations on the Errinundra Plateau where quolls are likely to occur during the quoll breeding season (May – August) – student project, student identified who would monitor these cameras.
At the end of the breeding season, report on the numbers of quolls identified – report complete by November 2008.
Repeat in 2009 – compare results of quolls photographed with fox control effort.
Employment of 2 casual staff to undertake targeted quoll surveys over two winters ($30/hour/person x 2 people x 10 hour days x 30 days x two winters = $36,000)
Progress Reported in Three-monthly Reports No. 1 - 5:
• Following a review of available camera designs, we selected the Moultrie Game-spy l-60 remote camera, and we were able to purchase 40 cameras with the available budget.
• On advice from colleagues who have extensive experience in using remote cameras, we are ensuring that each unit is fully operational before being deployed in the field situation.
• In conjuction with an off-campus student from the University of New England (Rena Gaberov) we have developed a survey project of the Errinundra Plateau. Rena will manage 30 cameras, and deploy them across 90 sites over the next three months, with each site being surveyed for a month. The sites have been selected and monitoring will commence in mid June, and run through until mid September.
• A number of people have been canvassed regarding their potential employment in the latrine search survey component, and two suitable people have been tentatively selected to carry out this work. It is envisaged that survey work of potential latrine sites, along with the deployment of the other 10 remote cameras, will take place over six weeks during July-August 2008.
• Rena Gaberov has surveyed over 60 sites with the remote cameras on the Errinundra Plateau and Arte River areas to date.
• The cameras have been located in gully habitats likely to be frequented by Spotted-tailed Quolls. Each camera was aimed at a bait, which consisted of fresh chicken pieces placed within a wire-netting pouch, which was secured to the ground or a tree. While there have been some technical problems with a small number of cameras, overall the performance of the cameras has been good.
• No photographs of Spotted-tailed Quolls have been recorded. While this has been a disappointing result, it has reinforced the rarity of the species in East Gippsland, primarily as a result of competition/predation from the Red Fox. This survey provides baseline data against which we can compare the results from future surveys in this area, now that we have commenced ongoing fox control.
• Thousands of images were recorded, with Bush Rats, Agile and Dusky Antechinus, Brush-tail Possums and Water Rats being the species seen most often. All of these species were considerably interested in consuming the bait. The fact that there is an abundant population of smaller mammals willing and able to consume meat-based baits has important ramifications for any future proposal to undertake any type of baiting for dogs, foxes or cats using aerially deployed baits. It also reinforces the importance of the buried-bait method as a way to target foxes while minimising risks and bait-loss to non-target species.
• Other species photographed incidentally were Swamp Wallabies and Echidnas.
• A considerable number of cameras recorded Feral Cats, but no wild dogs were photographed, and, significantly, only two cameras photographed foxes. This is significant because when a similar project using remote cameras was carried out a year before ongoing fox control was implemented, over 30% of the cameras recorded foxes.
• The most significant result has been the incidental identification of the endangered Long-footed Potoroo at two survey locations on the Arte River. Communications from researchers working on this species have suggested the species has been recorded at two new locations. This species has only ever been captured in Victoria, although they may still exist in south-eastern New South Wales.
• Cameras from approximately another 20 sites have still to be collected and checked.
• Two people (Tim Field and Maria Cardoso) have been employed for six weeks and have undertaken a number of hairtubing surveys and searches for quoll latrines. At this point we await results back from the analysis of both hairtube tapes and scats, and this survey work will be more fully documented in the next Three-Monthly Report (ie No. 3).
• None of the sites at which cameras were placed recorded any Spotted-tailed Quolls.
• Despite hairtubing a number of suitable locations, Tim Field and Maria Cardoso were unable to hairtube Spotted-tailed Quolls, although at one site on Martins Creek they did hairtube an endangered Long-footed Potoroo.
• Tim and Maria did collect multiple predator scats that may be Spotted-tailed Quoll scats, however full analysis of these has yet to be finalised.
• Rena and I have had initial discussions concerning the reporting of the camera survey, and I believe that in addition to the final report on the project that will be forwarded to FAME, it should be submitted to “The Victorian Naturalist” for publication. We will work on this publication over the next few months, with full acknowledgment of FAME as a sponsor of the project. Rena has been part of the hairtubing team during this last reporting period, and has not been able to complete her report as fully as she would like. She and I will work on this over January/February 2009.
• Rena has been plotting all of the study sites on ArcGIS in order to produce high-quality maps of the survey sites.
• Rena Gaberov has drafted an article detailing the range extension of the endangered Long-footed Potoroo on the Errinundra Plateau, as a result of two sites where the species was photographed during the FAME-sponsored quoll survey project. I am co-authoring this work, and aim to have the paper submitted to the “Victorian Naturalist” by the end of April.
• The remote cameras will not be idle over the next few months, and will be used in a trial to detect potoroos and bandicoots in areas where we have poor trap success, in order to test the efficacy of trapping and hairtubing programs, especially for Long-nosed Bandicoots, which appear particularly difficult to survey with standard techniques. The cameras will also be used an index to monitor fox abundance in areas where foxes are yet to be controlled, and if successful, will be used again once fox control has commenced, in order to provide a measure of the effectiveness of the control program.
• Following the very poor results of the camera survey on the Errinundra plateau to detect quolls, rather than repeat the survey in this area over such a short time frame, we will deploy the cameras across a large number of coastal and foothill forest sites in order to determine the presence of the species in areas where (a) terrestrial prey are more abundant due to the milder winter climate, and (b) where, in some areas, fox control has been occurring for a longer period of time.
• I have planned to use the cameras at 240 sites over the next 5-6 months, baited with chicken and left in situ for two-week periods.
• Rena Gaberov and I continue to work on the note concerning the Long-footed Potoroo photos, as well as the report concerning the Errinundra survey.
• I feel it is remiss of me not to have written something concerning this work for the FAME newsletter, and I will do so in the next month and forward that to Cheryl Hill with some photographs.
• All of the cameras continue to be located in the field, with the majority placed in the hope of photographing quolls. A small number of cameras, however, have been used to monitor the site at Cape Conran where an endangered Long-footed Potoroo was cage-trapped in July, during a regular trapping session. The Long-footed Potoroo captured was an adult female, in excellent condition. Her capture was a real surprise; while the area has a robust population of Long-nosed Potoroos, that is increasing as a result of 10 years of effective fox control, the area is not really considered to be Long-footed Potoroo habitat, given it’s proximity to the coast, and it’s sandy soils. In order to determine if the capture of this Long-footed Potoroo was a one-off, or if there were more Long-foots out there, I placed three cameras in the general area where the female was captured. Quite surprisingly, two of the cameras recorded images of Long-footed Potoroos, with one camera photographing a pair of Long-footed Potoroos! The Long-foots can be distinguished from Long-nosed Potoroos by their generally more robust stature and by their thick tails. This is an exciting development, but as is often the case, it results in more questions than answers! Have the Long-foots always been there, and we just haven’t encountered them before? Have they always been there is small numbers and are just starting to increase to a point where can now trap and photograph them more readily? Are they simply re-occupying habitat they once occurred in, now that the fox population has been significantly controlled? Hopefully we can start to answer these questions over the next 12 months or so. Regardless of the answers, we now have an area (Cape Conran) that is inhabited by both Long-nosed and Long-footed Potoroos, as well as having both Southern Brown and Long-nosed Bandicoots. Throw in Brushtail Possums and Ringtail Possums, two species of antechinus, Bush Rats, Swamp Rats, Water Rats, Swamp Wallabies and Echidnas, and what you have is a pretty diverse site for mammals.
Recent Progress (since last update):
• While the cameras again failed to detect any Spotted-tailed Quolls, they have again been successful in providing us with more information concerning the nationally-endangered Long-footed Potoroos at Cape Conran. In the last update I reported that the cameras had photographed a pair of this species at Cape Conran, which followed on from the first-ever capture of an individual this close to the coast. In November I placed three cameras back at the site where the female had originally been captured, and obtained series of photographs of a female Long-footed Potoroo with a young potoroo hopping around her feet before being photographed back in the pouch. These remarkable, but lucky, photographs have confirmed that this rare and endangered species is breeding in the Cape Conran area. The photos will be attached as separate jpegs to my email.
• Over the summer months the cameras will be deployed in a number of survey areas, and we will ramp up the quoll survey work during autumn-winter.
Component 2: Long-nosed Potoroo and Southern Brown Bandicoot Monitoring Program
Purchase of 100 traps to undertake intensive monitoring of endangered Long-nosed Potoroo and Southern Brown Bandicoot populations to fox control across seven study sites ($11,500)
Employment of 2 casual staff to assist with potoroo and bandicoot surveys over seven sites ($30/hour/person x 2 people x 7 hour days x 35 days = $14,700). Note: each of the seven sites is surveyed for 5 days, resulting in a total of 35 days of field work.
Purchase 100 traps by August 2008.
Undertake survey of seven sites during November/December 2008.
Report prepared on trapping results by March 2009.
Repeat trapping program in 2009 and in subsequent years (funding not being requested for this at this stage).
Progress Reported in Three-monthly Reports No. 1 – 5:
• A number of potential sites have been identified for survey, including one site where Southern Brown Bandicoots appear to be making a strong recovery, based on hairtube results. The site, on Old Coast Road, has been surveyed by the Southern Ark team in conjunction with the local TAFE College as an education/training exercise over the last three years. This year the hairtubing effort was able to detect Southern Brown Bandicoots on 30 transects out of a possible 100, with 16% of hairtubes overall securing bandicoot hair (64 hairtubes from 400 hairtubes in total). This is a remarkably high level of detection, and we will use the cage traps purchased to monitor this site (as well as six other sites) over the next few years.
• Cage traps will be purchased from Mascots Wireworks over the next three weeks.
• The purchase of the cage-traps has been put on hold while a trial has commenced comparing the efficacy of cage-traps with remote cameras and hairtubes. This is being undertaken in areas known to support healthy populations of potoroos as well as in areas where potoroos are less abundant. More specifically, we are interested to determine if the cameras are detecting bandicoots at a higher frequency than cage-traps or hairtubes; there is some anecdotal evidence that they appear to be more reluctant to be detected by either cage-traps or hairtubes. Purchase of cage-traps will be put on hold until the results of this short trial are analysed and reported on in the next Three-Monthly Report (ie No. 3).
• Two trials have in fact taken place since the last report, one which tested the efficacy of cameras with both hairtubes and traps as methods of detection, and one that investigated the behaviour of animals approaching traps. The data from the first trial does not appear to be robust enough to categorically state that one technique is more effective than any other, and plans are in place to repeat this early in 2009 (PhD student Alex Diment is undertaking this aspect of the study, supported by the Southern Ark Field Team). Interestingly, during the second trial, we photographed a number of instances were Long-nosed Potoroos did enter cage-traps, but failed to stand on the treadle that triggers the release mechanism for the door to shut, and they therefore did not get caught! The cameras that FAME sponsored for the quoll project were used during this work, and I intend to write this result up as a short note, and will acknowledge the contribution that FAME has made towards making this research possible. Despite the fact that potoroos on some occasions don’t get caught (I should add that on many more occasions they do get trapped!), and on the back of the results of the of some of the early data being generated by the hairtubing program this year, I intend (if this is approved by FAME) to proceed with the initial plan and purchase 100 cage traps, undertake a targeted survey of seven “hot spot” sites (as defined by positive hairtube results from the hairtubing program for potoroos and bandicoots) in April 2009 and in October 2009 (ie two surveys six months apart).
• 100 cage traps have been purchased and are now in East Gippsland. As a result of the large number of sites where both Long-nosed Potoroos and Southern Brown Bandicoots were recorded, we now have a number of sites where we can more closely examine the response of these species once fox control is initiated. As a result of the commitment from the Southern Ark team to fires, we will not be in a position to initiate the trapping of the seven hot-spot sites until May 2009.
• As discussed above, we have now identified a number of areas in Far East Gippsland where we have consistently hairtubed Long-nosed Potoroos and Southern Brown Bandicoots, and we will now implement a trapping program to monitor the status of these populations over time as the fox control program is implemented. If our experience at Cape Conran is anything to go by, these populations will respond positively to the reduced predation pressure.
• There are eight “hot-spot” sites that we will trap over four nights in August and again in October:
o 2 x Tamboon
o 4 x Mueller
o 2 x Drummer
• At each of these sites a transect of 50 traps will be established at 200m intervals along the road adjacent to where the mammals were hairtubed consistently, to give a 10km trapping transect. All potoroos, bandiccots and possums caught will be microchipped, weighed, sexed, and released at the point of capture. All potoroos and Southern Brown bandicoots will also have a tissue sample taken for further genetic analysis.
• The first sites in Mueller have been trapped, with a rather disappointing single potoroo captured and microchipped. Disappointing in as much as the area trapped had produced numerous “hits” on hairtubes during last year’s hairtubing program, and we expected more captures. I shall report back on the results for the remaining sites during the next report.
Recent Progress (since last update):
• More sites have been trapped, in particular a site on Old Coast Road, where we have consistently hairtubed Southern Brown Bandicoots. Two bandicoots were captured, which was slightly disappointing as we expected more captures. Over the next few months more trapping in Mueller, Tamboon and Drummer will take place, as long as fires don’t interfere with the program.
Component 3: Construction of breeding enclosures for Diamond Pythons
Purchase enclosures to house captive pythons by October 2008
Identify locations that enclosures would be established by November 2008
Establish enclosures by February 2009 (by which time pythons will have been captured, and held prior to breeding program).
Progress Reported in Three-monthly Reports No. 1- 5:
• Three purpose-built enclosures have been purchased from Australian Fauna Supplies.
• Discussions have been initiated with Parks Victoria regarding the establishment of these enclosures on “Marshmead” a property owned by the Methodist Ladies College on the eastern side of Mallacoota Inlet. This site would be ideal as it is well within the known range of the species in Victoria, it would double as a useful education project, and as a working farm and educational facility for young teenage girls it maintains a constant security effort.
• The enclosures will be delivered to East Gippsland in mid June.
• The three enclosures have been delivered to East Gippsland, and are currently held in under-cover storage in the Southern Ark shed. They look well-made and robust, ideal for their intended purpose.
• Unfortunately, our colleagues in Parks Victoria had not progressed the discussions concerning the establishment of the breeding enclosures with the managers of “Marshmead”, and we will contact the managers directly to pursue this possibility.
• The possibility of securing wild pythons of local provenance to commence the breeding program has been discussed with both Parks Victoria staff, as well as with Eden-based staff of State Forests of New South Wales, and this approach has been received favourably, and now a project brief must be more fully circulated and considered.
• Very little to report on this component, other than recent changes in staffing in key positions in both Parks Victoria in Gippsland and Forests NSW in Eden have led to some fruitful informal discussions concerning the possibility of securing wild Diamond Pythons to commence the breeding program.
• An important goal over the next two months will be identifying where the captive breeding enclosures will be located, with Marshmead (Methodists Ladies College) remaining a strong candidate. A number of other local property owners have been canvassed, but none can guarantee the safety of the pythons, especially after-hours and on the week-ends.
• An important recent development has been the identification of a site upon which to establish the captive breeding enclosures. This site belongs to a private landholder, recently retired to Far East Gippsland, who is rehabilitating an area that was previously worked as a beef property. The landowner has recreated an area of wetland, undertaken a significant amount of work in weed removal and is looking to encourage wildlife back onto the property as much as possible. For reasons of security (of the pythons) and confidentiality, at this stage I prefer not to discuss where the location is, or the owner of the property, suffice to say it is well within the current distribution of the Diamond Python in Victoria.
• Further discussions have taken place in regard to the establishment of the breeding enclosures on the private property in East Gippsland. Sites for the breeding enclosures have been identified, and work on constructing these sites will commence once the owner, who is currently overseas, returns.
• Work on a project brief that outlines the taking of pythons from the wild locally will commence shortly, and the Animal Ethics application form will be completed in the next few months.
• The majority of the range of Diamond Pythons in Victoria occurs in Croajingolong National Park, and the Parks Victoria staff are aware of the aims of the project and support it in principle.
• The first breeding enclosure has been transported to the private property involved and constructed (see Figure 2). This property is already inhabited by a resident Diamond Python (nick-named, not surprisingly, “Monty”), and we hope to put together a program whereby lots of juvenile pythons can be returned to the wild.
• The owner of the property (where we hope to undertake the python breeding) and I recently visited Mr Russell Grant, a Melbourne-based expert in breeding pythons in general and Diamond Pythons in particular. We discussed the general proposal and discussed the equipment we will need. Russell was a great help, and he obviously has great enthusiasm for pythons and python conservation. He willingly offered to give us any help he can, but vigorously agreed with us that we should NOT physically involve anyone in the project that currently breeds or maintains reptiles for fear of releasing pythons that may carry disease or parasites that could be detrimental to reptiles in the wild.
• Work on the project brief that outlines the taking of pythons from the wild locally was put on hold until we had met and discussed the proposal with Russell Grant, but this can now commence.
• I am still seeking some results of a Diamond Python radio-tracking project at Booderee National Park at Jervis Bay, which may provide some important data.
Recent Progress (since last update):
• Little has happened since the last update, other than noting there is an increasing interest within DSE and Parks Victoria in the concept of captive breeding and releasing Diamond Pythons into areas where fox control has been initiated. I will continue to work on a project brief, which I will submit to a meeting we are having on the 22nd of January to discuss translocations of fauna in Gippsland.
Three Monthly Report No 8 Due: March 2010
Please direct all queries to Andrew Murray
Southern Ark Operations Manager
Department of Sustainability & Environment
PO Box 260 Orbost VIC 3888
Phone: 03 51 611 302