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Bettongs fall prey to foxes in risky trial release

By John Thistleton 24 January 2017 24

Caption: an eastern bettong asleep. Photo: ACT Government.

At least 11 rare eastern bettongs have died in a contentious trial release into the Lower Cotter Catchment that raises questions on use of land management resources.

Fifteen bettongs remain alive. Four have been confirmed as killed by foxes, one from a bird of prey, and forensic results are yet to determine other deaths.

One has been returned to captivity with a faulty collar, while another one could be in the wild with a faulty collar. The collars monitor the endangered species three times a week.

The ACT Government will not say how much additional money is being spent on intensive fox control.

Environment Minister Mick Gentleman has not answered questions on the trial. A spokesman says he is on leave.

Two years of intensive control preceded the release phases, which began last spring. A wider variety of baits are being put out as fox cubs leave their families and begin to hunt.

Critics say the trial is futile because foxes will never be eradicated from the bush.

An environment and planning department spokesman said establishing bettongs at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary allowed greater risks to help lift the conservation status of the entire species, and improvements in future releases.

He said bettongs had not lived on the mainland for 100 years, and information from the trial would answer whether they could survive in fox-controlled areas, or if they would disperse away from the release-site.

He said the Lower Cotter trial met International Union for Conservation of Nature guidelines.

“There is no specific target population for this trial release because the main objective is garnering information, not establishing a population. If a full reintroduction is considered feasible, the number of animals to be released – and required predator control – would be determined based on the results of the trial including the area’s carrying capacity.”

Was the ACT Government right to release rare eastern bettongs in the Lower Cotter Catchment?

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Attempts to reintroduce rare species in the ACT have divided conservationists.

One critic said the Mulligans Flat sanctuary was a glorified zoo, while another has slammed the bettongs release, and suspects between 5 and 10,000 bettongs would be needed across the Cotter Valley and beyond to establish a viable population.

“Intensive fox and cat control would be required forever over the whole of the area plus a buffer zone around the bettong-occupied area. This would be huge and prohibitively expensive and require many staff,” he said.

In the spring of 2009, 43 vulnerable brown treecreepers caught from an established community south east of Wagga Wagga were released at Mulligans Flat and neighbouring nature reserve Goorooyarroo.

Although the countryside had been fortified with dead timber and artificial shelter areas, it did not provide the little insect-eaters with as much cover as the landscape from where they had been caught. Consequently other bigger predators quickly had an easy meal.

In 2014, 11 bush stone-curlews were brought into Mulligans sanctuary from where six escaped and were either taken by predators, probably foxes, or left the area.

Last year eastern quolls arrived at Mulligans from Tasmania and a private breeder in Victoria. Seven of them wasted no time scaling the 1.8 metre high fence and escaping. Foxes killed four of them, after which the fence was to be retrofitted.

In 2015 University of Canberra researcher Dr Bruno de Oliveira Ferronato published findings of reptiles being caught in the fence enclosing Mulligans sanctuary.

Over 16 months he found 108 reptiles had died and more than 1000 animals blocked at the fence, with eastern long-necked turtles accounting for almost all deaths.

Pictured above, an eastern bettong asleep. Photo: ACT Government


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Bettongs fall prey to foxes in risky trial release
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Tadanus 12:07 am 31 Jan 17

Steve Chivers said :

Tadanus said :

Steve Chivers, the ACT government only made the media release in December because the journalist had asked a series of questions about the program which up until then had been secret. The media release was an attempt to put the program in a good light. As for your comment that I am using high sounding scientific language to criticise the program, that is a ridiculous comment. You would do better in discussing and refuting genuine scientific reasoning rather than resorting to attacking individuals just because they do not accord with your views. Of course I realise that it is a trial and that 30 animals is not enough to establish a wild population. However, what I argue is that if the scientists had done their background literature research and modelled the likelihood of success against the accepted IUCN criteria for translocations they would know that the chance of establishing a self sustaining population of bettongs in the wild in the ACT is zilch. Very substantial ACT community resources (several staff for two years for the fox control alone) have been committed to the program. Many of these resources have been drawn from other ACT P&C operational areas which have had to reduce their programs as a consequence. It is a mater of determining where resources are best spent for the best return for conservation. Putting significant resources into a study which a review of past literature on the issue and undertaking a basic risk assessment against accepted criteria would show that it was a waste of resources. I strongly suspect that the operational areas that had to provide resources from their programs would agree. To me it looks like a few scientists are indulging themselves in their interests to try and get a few publications rather than having a sincere concern about conservation in the ACT. After all substantial ACT community financial and other resources are being committed to this work. The community has a right to know and to seek justification for their use of these resources from those running the study.

Ok, fair comment. The PhD thesis by William Batson (available via GoogleScholar search) for the Mulligans and Tidbinbilla programs seems to have significant consideration of the IUCN criteria, however I wasn’t able to find any literature regarding whether this carried through to the LCC release. There is a point to be made about transparency of the LCC release, but I think condemning the scientists involved without involving them in the discussion is unfair.

Okay Steve, very happy to have a serious scientific debate with Professors Adrian Manning and David Lindenmayer. Where are they?

Steve Chivers 6:52 pm 30 Jan 17

Tadanus said :

Steve Chivers, the ACT government only made the media release in December because the journalist had asked a series of questions about the program which up until then had been secret. The media release was an attempt to put the program in a good light. As for your comment that I am using high sounding scientific language to criticise the program, that is a ridiculous comment. You would do better in discussing and refuting genuine scientific reasoning rather than resorting to attacking individuals just because they do not accord with your views. Of course I realise that it is a trial and that 30 animals is not enough to establish a wild population. However, what I argue is that if the scientists had done their background literature research and modelled the likelihood of success against the accepted IUCN criteria for translocations they would know that the chance of establishing a self sustaining population of bettongs in the wild in the ACT is zilch. Very substantial ACT community resources (several staff for two years for the fox control alone) have been committed to the program. Many of these resources have been drawn from other ACT P&C operational areas which have had to reduce their programs as a consequence. It is a mater of determining where resources are best spent for the best return for conservation. Putting significant resources into a study which a review of past literature on the issue and undertaking a basic risk assessment against accepted criteria would show that it was a waste of resources. I strongly suspect that the operational areas that had to provide resources from their programs would agree. To me it looks like a few scientists are indulging themselves in their interests to try and get a few publications rather than having a sincere concern about conservation in the ACT. After all substantial ACT community financial and other resources are being committed to this work. The community has a right to know and to seek justification for their use of these resources from those running the study.

Ok, fair comment. The PhD thesis by William Batson (available via GoogleScholar search) for the Mulligans and Tidbinbilla programs seems to have significant consideration of the IUCN criteria, however I wasn’t able to find any literature regarding whether this carried through to the LCC release. There is a point to be made about transparency of the LCC release, but I think condemning the scientists involved without involving them in the discussion is unfair.

Tadanus 2:59 pm 30 Jan 17

Steve Chivers, the ACT government only made the media release in December because the journalist had asked a series of questions about the program which up until then had been secret. The media release was an attempt to put the program in a good light.

Of course I realise that it is a trial and that 30 animals is not enough to establish a wild population. However, what I argue is that if the scientists had done their background literature research and modelled the likelihood of success against the accepted IUCN criteria for translocations they would know that the chance of establishing a self sustaining population of bettongs in the wild in the ACT is zilch. Very substantial ACT community resources (several staff for two years for the fox control alone) have been committed to the program. Many of these resources have been drawn from other ACT P&C operational areas which have had to reduce their programs as a consequence. It is a mater of determining where resources are best spent for the best return for conservation. Putting significant resources into a study which a review of past literature on the issue and undertaking a basic risk assessment against accepted criteria would show that it was a waste of resources. I strongly suspect that the operational areas that had to provide resources from their programs would agree. To me it looks like a few scientists are indulging themselves in their interests to try and get a few publications rather than having a sincere concern about conservation in the ACT. After all substantial ACT community financial and other resources are being committed to this work. The community has a right to know and to seek justification for their use of these resources from those running the study.

wildturkeycanoe 12:54 pm 30 Jan 17

Maryan said :

Why don’t we just change the rules & let people keep them as pets. Have dogs or cats ever become endangered? Or ferrets? or budgies? or cockatoos? or mice?
Just a thought . . .

I was going to suggest something similar in my last post, perhaps an “Adop-a-Bettong” program. The only thing that would make it difficult is providing the right dietary requirements and preventing escape from the backyard. I think such a plan would definitely help increase the population/prevent extinction and would be welcomed by Canberrans. Getting them to survive in the wild is a different story though. Without native parents to teach the young what is good to eat and how to evade predators, the species would become so domesticated they’d probably not survive in the wild.

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