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Bettong release like offering them up as cat and dog food: pest expert

By John Thistleton - 8 December 2016 14

A bettong being released into the Lower Cotter Catchment. Photo: ACT Government.

A pest expert has likened the ACT Government’s secret release of 30 rare eastern bettongs west of Canberra to offering up native animals as cat and dog food.

Almost two years of intensive fox control preceded the release in the Lower Cotter Catchment, but questions are being asked whether this is a waste of resources, leaving other areas across the territory short for pest and weed control.

Author with the CSIRO, adjunct professor in natural resource management and national expert on pest management Dr Mike Braysher said he believed the bettongs would be wiped out.

“Even if they do survive it will require intensive fox control,” Dr Braysher said.

“Which begs the question, what pest and weed control will be done for the rest of the ACT?’’

Do you think the ACT Government should be funding a program to release bettongs in an area with a feral fox problem?

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Thirty of the rabbit-sized kangaroos have been set free in stages since September, raising hope of addressing Australia’s shocking record of losing mammal species.

But the release has angered critics of Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary, where bettong numbers have exploded past 300, since an initial release of 30 in 2012.

Dr Braysher said under International Union for Conservation of Nature guidelines such a release would need a detailed plan on costs and benefits, and identification of all the risks, which had not been done. He said feral cats carried diseases that would endanger the bettongs.

The academic said a release of more than 1200 burrowing bettongs in South Australia in 2013 was unsuccessful, and that was done with aerial fox baiting, which was not possible in the Lower Cotter Catchment.

But ACT Parks and Conservation director Daniel Iglesias said as a land manager, the release in stages in September, and signs of some bettongs (Bettongia gaimardi) breeding were really exciting.

“Pure conservation is not just about protecting what we have, but replenishing what we don’t have and what we have lost in the past,’’ Mr Iglesias said.

“It is a brave new world for the ACT to contemplate the possibility we could be re-introducing animals that our forebears managed to allow go to extinction, it is a real paradigm shift, a real game changer in the way we look after our protected areas.

“Bettongs into the wild like this, it is the first in Australia that I know of,’’ he said.

Extinct on the mainland for about 100 years because of foxes and land clearing, bettongs are prolific breeders when protected from predators.

Those released into the Lower Cotter Catchment have collars emitting signals triggered by activity, and from being non-active. Six or seven of the creatures released in September have been taken by foxes. At least one has been killed by a feral cat, and one by an eagle.

The bettongs now face their most dangerous period, as foxes begin to force out their cubs to hunt separately.

“But interestingly, in the three months they have been out there, we already know the females are carrying young,’’ Mr Iglesias said.

“In our next lot of trapping over the next few months we will be able to catch a lot of them and check a lot of the females and I am suspicious a good proportion of those females will have young inside them.’’

Mr Iglesias says the ACT Government could not have arrived at this point without a partnership with the ANU Fenner School, CSIRO and Woodlands and Wetlands Trust.

Researchers had also relied on Dr Katherine Moseby, involved in releasing burrowing bettongs in arid South Australia. In that trial, no bettongs were detected at the main release site 42 days after the last release.

Research at Mulligans emboldened scientists to try again. A total of 3000 hours were spent on fox baiting.

“Going outside the fence is fraught with risk because what we are effectively doing is introducing a native population of animals into un-protected landscape,’’ Mr Iglesias said.

No more bettongs will be released until researchers know how they have fared against the changing fox population.

“It makes no sense to have a protected area for bettongs if it is going to cost us a fortune, we are not going to be able to maintain it.

“The interesting questions will be at what level do we adjust that? How many foxes are too much? And how many foxes are too little from our point of view because we don’t want to invest a lot of money getting rid of a lot of foxes if we don’t have to.’’

Mr Iglesias said in Tasmania, bettongs had thrived in the wild alongside feral cats.

“Eastern bettong have a high reproductive rate, that appealed to us because of their in-built resilience to predation, effectively what we are trying to do is discover at what level that predation can be sustained,’’ Mr Iglesias said.

Meanwhile, under the bushland soil abundant native truffles are available to feed bettongs, as well as seeds and insects. The little marsupials are called eco-system engineers.

“They dig up the soil, continually turning it over looking for seeds and things to eat,’’ Mr Iglesias said. “If you think about it, that element of the eco system has been missing from the Canberra regions for 100 years. You put them back again, they are digging the soil up, it is going to have a knock-on effect in the environment,’’ Mr Iglesias said.

He said understanding what level of fox control was needed to enable bettongs to thrive would be a great outcome.

Do you think the ACT Government should be funding a program to release bettongs in an area with a feral fox problem?

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14 Responses to
Bettong release like offering them up as cat and dog food: pest expert
1
MikeLB 6:22 pm
08 Dec 16
#

Translocation can be a valuable conservation tool but it requires careful planning to assess the risks and ensure that the benefits outweigh the risks and the costs. Has this been done for this release which obviously has been considered for 2 years or more? I severely doubt it, and certainly I have not heard of a management plan for their translocation to wild in the ACT – something that one might consider to be essential. Indeed, the Australasian Wildlife Management Society has a position statement on translocations for conservation see http://www.awms.org.au/assets/docs/PositionStatements/awms%20position%20on%20translocation%20for%20conservation.pdf It is based on the internationally endorsed IUCN guidelines which are adopted by most conservation nations. Another criterion is that species should not be translocated into areas where the threats that have caused the decline are not known (and they are not for the ACT) or if a major one is known but cannot be adequately managed. Indeed, foxes and cats have almost certainly been factors, fox primarily as predators as are cats and cats have also been implicated in the decline of bettongs due to transmission of toxoplasmosis for which cats are the definitive host. Foxes will never be eradicated and cats cant be controlled with current techniques. Given that none of nearly 1500 individuals of a similar species released to the wild in South Australia survived more than 122 days despite intensive and extensive predator control, it is almost certain that this will be the same fate for the current releases in the ACT. How much has all this cost so far? Even if some bettongs manage to survive, intensive fox (and if possible cat) control will be required for the foreseeable future and at great expense in financial and staff resources. Is this the best way to spend our scarce conservation resources, namely rearing native animals to release them as cat and fox food?

2
Renard 10:43 pm
08 Dec 16
#

Where are the resources i.e. 3000 hours coming from for this experiment? Are they being redirected from key Parks and Conservation programs?

3
dungfungus 10:56 pm
08 Dec 16
#

It’s a good thing that feral deer aren’t meat eaters or they would be a threat to the Bettongs also.

Deer are increasing at an alarming rate all over Eastern NSW.

4
dungfungus 6:04 pm
10 Dec 16
#

Renard said :

Where are the resources i.e. 3000 hours coming from for this experiment? Are they being redirected from key Parks and Conservation programs?

There doesn’t appear to be much activity at the arboretum lately and this is where most of the “key” parks resources have been spent in recent years.

5
Roksteddy 8:50 am
11 Dec 16
#

dungfungus said :

Renard said :

Where are the resources i.e. 3000 hours coming from for this experiment? Are they being redirected from key Parks and Conservation programs?

There doesn’t appear to be much activity at the arboretum lately and this is where most of the “key” parks resources have been spent in recent years.

The arboretum has nothing to do with the Parks and Conservation Service

6
wildturkeycanoe 6:31 am
12 Dec 16
#

There is a much more cost effective and humane way of fox control, legalised hunting. If you sent some spot-lighters out there to wipe out the foxes, Parks and Conservation wouldn’t have to lift a finger to destroy the fox population. Back in my youth you used to get $5 per skin and up to $20 for really good ones. To get the best value, it was essential that there were no bullet holes in the pelt, which encouraged you to make every kill a head shot. I think a bullet to the brain is a less cruel way to die than stomach churning, slow release poison baits. But the government wouldn’t want to put off their Greenie friends by supporting the gun lobby, would they?
Tightening of gun control and making licensing more difficult has reduced the numbers of hunters and increased the feral pest populations. Foxes can now wander into the suburbs of Canberra without fear because nobody is going to poison or shoot them, plus there is an abundance of food. This could have been avoided had people kept the right to bear arms and kill the vermin from our forests and reserves.

7
dungfungus 7:40 am
12 Dec 16
#

Roksteddy said :

dungfungus said :

Renard said :

Where are the resources i.e. 3000 hours coming from for this experiment? Are they being redirected from key Parks and Conservation programs?

There doesn’t appear to be much activity at the arboretum lately and this is where most of the “key” parks resources have been spent in recent years.

The arboretum has nothing to do with the Parks and Conservation Service

So, then who who removed the hares that were eating a lot of the saplings?

8
dungfungus 7:59 am
12 Dec 16
#

wildturkeycanoe said :

There is a much more cost effective and humane way of fox control, legalised hunting. If you sent some spot-lighters out there to wipe out the foxes, Parks and Conservation wouldn’t have to lift a finger to destroy the fox population. Back in my youth you used to get $5 per skin and up to $20 for really good ones. To get the best value, it was essential that there were no bullet holes in the pelt, which encouraged you to make every kill a head shot. I think a bullet to the brain is a less cruel way to die than stomach churning, slow release poison baits. But the government wouldn’t want to put off their Greenie friends by supporting the gun lobby, would they?
Tightening of gun control and making licensing more difficult has reduced the numbers of hunters and increased the feral pest populations. Foxes can now wander into the suburbs of Canberra without fear because nobody is going to poison or shoot them, plus there is an abundance of food. This could have been avoided had people kept the right to bear arms and kill the vermin from our forests and reserves.

I wonder if any of the anti-gun, hand-wringing Greenies have ever witnessed a fox on a killing spree in a chicken roost?

Exotic feral animals are destroying our environment and instant death by a bullet rather than poison bait is the only humane way to address the problem.

Because of the current policies we have a ridiculous situation whereby exotic animals have been allowed to take over Australia and the only way our native animals retain a presence is to live in “gated communities” at great cost to the public purse. Crazy stuff indeed.

9
Roksteddy 8:12 am
12 Dec 16
#

wildturkeycanoe said :

There is a much more cost effective and humane way of fox control, legalised hunting. If you sent some spot-lighters out there to wipe out the foxes, Parks and Conservation wouldn’t have to lift a finger to destroy the fox population. Back in my youth you used to get $5 per skin and up to $20 for really good ones. To get the best value, it was essential that there were no bullet holes in the pelt, which encouraged you to make every kill a head shot. I think a bullet to the brain is a less cruel way to die than stomach churning, slow release poison baits. But the government wouldn’t want to put off their Greenie friends by supporting the gun lobby, would they?
Tightening of gun control and making licensing more difficult has reduced the numbers of hunters and increased the feral pest populations. Foxes can now wander into the suburbs of Canberra without fear because nobody is going to poison or shoot them, plus there is an abundance of food. This could have been avoided had people kept the right to bear arms and kill the vermin from our forests and reserves.

Well that’s just plain wrong. Hunting is not more effective and every study done shows this. It can often cause the feral population to actually increase. Coordinated hunting by professionals can be a useful method in conjunction with other control methods such as baiting.
Do you really want weekend warriors shooting in the lower Cotter catchment? That’s a tragedy waiting to happen

10
dungfungus 10:08 am
12 Dec 16
#

Roksteddy said :

wildturkeycanoe said :

There is a much more cost effective and humane way of fox control, legalised hunting. If you sent some spot-lighters out there to wipe out the foxes, Parks and Conservation wouldn’t have to lift a finger to destroy the fox population. Back in my youth you used to get $5 per skin and up to $20 for really good ones. To get the best value, it was essential that there were no bullet holes in the pelt, which encouraged you to make every kill a head shot. I think a bullet to the brain is a less cruel way to die than stomach churning, slow release poison baits. But the government wouldn’t want to put off their Greenie friends by supporting the gun lobby, would they?
Tightening of gun control and making licensing more difficult has reduced the numbers of hunters and increased the feral pest populations. Foxes can now wander into the suburbs of Canberra without fear because nobody is going to poison or shoot them, plus there is an abundance of food. This could have been avoided had people kept the right to bear arms and kill the vermin from our forests and reserves.

Well that’s just plain wrong. Hunting is not more effective and every study done shows this. It can often cause the feral population to actually increase. Coordinated hunting by professionals can be a useful method in conjunction with other control methods such as baiting.
Do you really want weekend warriors shooting in the lower Cotter catchment? That’s a tragedy waiting to happen

And what exactly is a “weekend warrior”?

11
dungfungus 3:59 pm
12 Dec 16
#

Roksteddy said :

wildturkeycanoe said :

There is a much more cost effective and humane way of fox control, legalised hunting. If you sent some spot-lighters out there to wipe out the foxes, Parks and Conservation wouldn’t have to lift a finger to destroy the fox population. Back in my youth you used to get $5 per skin and up to $20 for really good ones. To get the best value, it was essential that there were no bullet holes in the pelt, which encouraged you to make every kill a head shot. I think a bullet to the brain is a less cruel way to die than stomach churning, slow release poison baits. But the government wouldn’t want to put off their Greenie friends by supporting the gun lobby, would they?
Tightening of gun control and making licensing more difficult has reduced the numbers of hunters and increased the feral pest populations. Foxes can now wander into the suburbs of Canberra without fear because nobody is going to poison or shoot them, plus there is an abundance of food. This could have been avoided had people kept the right to bear arms and kill the vermin from our forests and reserves.

Well that’s just plain wrong. Hunting is not more effective and every study done shows this. It can often cause the feral population to actually increase. Coordinated hunting by professionals can be a useful method in conjunction with other control methods such as baiting.
Do you really want weekend warriors shooting in the lower Cotter catchment? That’s a tragedy waiting to happen

How is culling our native kangaroo population regularly any different to what you claim “doesn’t work” with the feral animals?

12
MikeLB 4:02 pm
12 Dec 16
#

Whether the release was a study to test viability of a translocated population of bettongs or a serious translocation attempt, it is clear that it is a very expensive exercise both in terms of staff and other resources and using animals that have cost substantial time and funds to obtain. Therefore it behoves those undertaking the study to carefully plan it in order to obtain the necessary information from it in and to justify the expense and the potential negative animal welfare impacts (to the bettongs). Hence the questions that need to be asked are:
What are the objectives for the study – are they clearly stated and measurable?
How will the success or failure of the study be determined?
What is the monitoring and evaluation strategy – in other words what factors will be monitored and how will the information be assessed?
What is the time-frame for the study – and if it is deemed not to be successful, what criteria will be used to determine this?
What is the exit strategy for the project?
Have the other potential factors that may have caused the local extinction of bettongs been identified and will they also be assessed or is predation the only factors being looked at – e.g. of other factors include sufficient quality and quantity of food and other resources for all stages of the life cycle of bettongs, impact of fire management and habitat structure, disease, eg toxoplasmosis from cats?

Also has there been a Population Viability Analysis (PVA) to determine the size of the bettong population that will be necessary for it to be viable including allowing for periodic droughts, fire and other events – especially given that there is no surrounding population for new animals to repopulate and make up for any losses.
What is the necessary level of annual recruitment?
What is the area of suitable habitat that will be necessary for such a population and what doe this mean for resources – staff and others – required to undertake continual predator control, including in the buffer zone of 2 fox territories around the study site?
Will these resources be available for the foreseeable future?
Will the results of the study be openly available for the public and other researchers and include an assessment of what worked and what didn’t work?

If there is such a report that addresses these issues it would be good if ANU, The Trust and ACT Parks Conservation Service would published it.

13
wildturkeycanoe 8:29 pm
13 Dec 16
#

Roksteddy said :

Well that’s just plain wrong. Hunting is not more effective and every study done shows this. It can often cause the feral population to actually increase. Coordinated hunting by professionals can be a useful method in conjunction with other control methods such as baiting.
Do you really want weekend warriors shooting in the lower Cotter catchment? That’s a tragedy waiting to happen

Is that as big a tragedy as releasing bettongs in to a slaughter house?
As for the argument about hunting increasing the population, what is the difference between shooting a fox dead and knowing where it fell, to poisoning them, then having no clue where they ran off to? Both scenarios work but at least in shooting them you can retrieve the carcass. Once poisoned, a fox could try to find water and end up dead on the bank of a creek, polluting the flow downstream.
Studies can show whatever the investigator wants to prove, but once a fox is dead there aren’t any other [feral] predators further up the food chain in Australia to consume those bodies, so that study is not valid for this argument.

14
SallyJones83 11:55 am
14 Dec 16
#

While the idea of a trial sounds good, I do agree, that people on the ground should be informed of how the idea was developed and who exactly is paying for it. Where is the reintroduction plan and how will the risks be mitigated into the future???

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