Glen Paul: G’day,
and welcome to CSIROvod, I’m Glen Paul. In this vodcast I invite you to join
me in far north Queensland, as we travel with a team of CSIRO scientists who
are working with local Rangers to assess the damage being caused by feral pigs
to some remote areas of Cape York.
can be rough going working in this part of the world, and overseeing the
expedition is Justin Perry from CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences. The scientists had
come to the Toolka Nature Reserve, not far from the township of Coen, to work
with local rangers in establishing a five year baseline survey aimed at finding
out how the reduction of feral pigs in the region would impact biodiversity.
animals have long established themselves in this part of Australia with
remnants of cattle stations, such as wild horses and mobs of cleanskin cattle
roaming the bush, and while they certainly do impact the native landscape, it’s
the feral pig that is considered the biggest pest.
to Australia as domestic pigs at the time of European settlement, feral pigs
are now a widespread problem.
Justin Perry: So
it’s going to be a really interesting project, and the beauty of it is that it
informs the management of pigs right across northern Australia.
Glen Paul: In
preparation for any future pig abatement program, survey sites are established
so numbers of native species can be measured before and after. With some
animals more active at night, conducting a species count after dark allows a
good insight into potential impacts of pigs.
Eric Vanderduys: This
that we’re looking at in front of me here (demonstrating) is old pig damage.
When I say old, it’s last wet season when this was still wet, and they’ve been
poking through the mud with their snouts and trotters, and getting in and
looking for probably bulbs of whatever this veg is, it’s probably bulkuruor
some sort of sedge, that they like to eat the peanuts or the onions of.
Glen Paul: Despite
the pig damage of the last wet reptile expert and author of the Field Guide to
the Frogs of Queensland, Eric was pleasantly surprised to see some frog
species in abundance.
Eric Vanderduys: You
can sort of see how thick the frogs are. Just come in and have a look at this,
just to give you an idea. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,
nine, ten, 11, 12, 13 – that’s a striped rocket frog, that one up there, a
different one to all these others – 14. Yeah, frogs everywhere.
Glen Paul: But
counting species you can see will only get you so far, as many are just too shy
or well concealed, so live traps are placed at survey sites to allow the
researchers to catch and document what’s there.
Gen Perkins: I
think he’s a melomys, so he’s not a rat at all, but he’s like a nat... what we
call a native rat.
Glen Paul: Once
the details are recorded animals are then released. The selection of a
suitable survey site is also an important factor.
Justin Perry: The
start of the site we put a picket, we walk a hundred metres on one of the
points of a compass, north, south, east or west, and we run a hundred metre
transect out. So that we can find them again we put pink tape on, so a feature
of fauna surveys across northern Australia is pink tape, and you’ll see... if
you ever see this floating around in rainforests or savannah, you know that
there’s some crazy Scientist walking around in there.
Glen Paul: The
researchers are also interested in knowing how many pigs are in the area, and
by clearing a site of prints and markings, any new activity can be noted.
Justin Perry: And
what we’ve found is we’re starting to see evidence of pigs. That’s only after
two days. Usually we’re going to leave these things for about a week, and what
we do now is we measure right across the ten metre transect and that gives us
an idea of how many pigs are still utilising this area.
Glen Paul: A
non venomous slaty-grey snake had been captured the night before, and Justin
was preparing to release it back to the spot it was caught, and with the
Rangers continuing the surveys in the future it was a good opportunity to
team had been working this area for a couple of weeks and were due to head to a
new campsite in the mountains, so needed to complete one more survey across
each site before packing up. One thing that was obvious was the use of
technology, with a lot of it being Smartphones and tablets.
Justin Perry: Two
years ago we carried probably ten different pelican cases, and in those pelican
cases we had large things to pack into a Ute, we had GPS’s, we had satellite
phones, we had paper maps that we printed out, we had all these different
things that are now embedded in one device. And so now we go, “Alright we’re
going to go pack.” (Chuckles). (Justin closes the case on his Smartphone and
puts it in his pocket). Put it in your pocket and you’re done.
Glen Paul: And
the advances in technology didn’t end there. Time lapse cameras were installed
at some of the sites to monitor the comings and goings of animals. And an
unmanned airborne vehicle could offer a view from above that previously would
have required the use of a helicopter.
a nearby waterhole a Cormorant had got itself into trouble and appeared to be
snagged on something. Properly trained, and if safe to do so, CSIRO Scientists
will always lend a hand to wildlife in distress.
Justin Perry: I
think this has been... this Cormorant’s been diving for fish, and there’s some
line set in here for whatever they’re catching in here, and it’s got its neck
caught around there, so it’s got a... I can’t quite actually see... Shaka, can
you just see where that... you can see where that joins on, and it goes down to
its neck, but I...
Ranger Shaka: I
Justin Perry: It’s
OK. There you go.
Ranger Shaka: There
Justin Perry: Alright.
Ranger Shaka: Right.
Here, here, here. I’m out.
Justin Perry: Alright.
Ranger Shaka: A
thank you would be nice.
Justin Perry: (Laughs).
Glen Paul: With
surveys for the Toolka Nature Reserve out of the way the team packed up camp
and along with the Rangers began the trek to the new site.
Anders Zimny: We’re
heading towards this place called Blue Mountain, and yeah, it’s always exciting
to come to a new place that you don’t know what it looks like, and where we’re
going to set up camp, and if there’s going to be a creek you can swim in after
hard work (chuckles), and so, yeah, it’s always exciting.
Glen Paul: An
old outstation would make for the campsite, and as the Scientists hadn’t been
here before, Shaka offered a traditional welcome. Basically the greeting
offered safe passage and good fortune to the Scientists while working on land.
new site was littered with rusting corrugated iron, and knowing how much
certain animals enjoy the shelter it offers, the team was keen to investigate.
Unknown Male: That
is a ripper. That’s one of the biggest ones I’ve ever seen.
Glen Paul: In
this situation the scientists were focusing more on reptiles, so the uncovering
of a large tarantula was somewhat unexpected.
Justin Perry: How
are we going to get it back without crushing it?
Eric Vanderduys: I’m
just figuring that out now. Right, start laying it down now, she’s at a good
Glen Paul: With
the spider safely covered over it was time for the real work to begin. New
survey sites would have to be selected, and traps and bait prepared. Working
with Indigenous communities to set up long term biodiversity monitoring plots
is extremely important for conservation in northern Australia, and if you’d
like to find out more about this type of research, or look at a career with
CSIRO, just visit our website at www.csiro.au.