Monday, August 24, 2015

Australia Moves to Protect Species

Faced with declining numbers of iconic species of birds, reptiles mammals and plants, the Australian government announced the nation's first Threatened Species Strategy. The new policy was announced in Melbourne last month by the Environment Minister. It commits $6.6 million to projects that protect threatened species and sets hard targets for improvements for 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants. The first mammals identified for help are the numbat, mala, mountain pygmy-possum, greater bilby, golden bandicoot, brush-tailed rabbit rat, eastern bettong, western quoll, Kangaroo Island dunnart and eastern barred bandicoot. These names are probably not familiar to readers outside Australia because they are all endemic and most of them are marsupials.

Australia's bilby
The Minister also called for culling of feral cats that plague the continent, but that proposal is proving to be very controversial. Since arriving in Australia feral cats have contributed to the extinction of twenty-seven mammal species. Australian cat fanciers are aghast at the prospect of organized killing of their beloved preditor on a mass scale. Minister Hunt said he wants two million feral cats killed by 2020. The push is on for a twenty-four curfew for pet catsso they are not poisoned along with the feral. A few ecologists from the University of NSW have suggested reintroducing the Tasmanian devil to the mainland after a 3000 year absence. The devil has a reputation for combativeness that would allow it to dominate feral cats and foxes. The fact that the island of Tasmania has few foxes despite being introduced several times for hunting is due to the presence of the devil. Even the government's threatened species commissioner agrees that native preditor reintroduction is a science-based means of recovering a species threatened with extinction.

Conservationists are also quick to point out that other actions are needed to prevent loss of endangered species such as protecting habitats from development or exploitation.  For example Victoria's leadbeater's possum and swift parrot are at risk from logging in their Montane Ash forest habitat.  The Australian Conservation Foundation released a report earlier showing that recovery plans for Australia's most endangered species are failing to protect habitat.