15 September 2022

Mulligans Flat keen to nail echidna count - with polish

| Sally Hopman
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Woman holding echidna

Outreach manager Millie Sutherland-Saines with one of the Mulligans Flat residents up for the count this Saturday for the annual echidna sweep. As an ecologist, Millie is licensed to handle the native animal. Photo: Mulligans Flat Sanctuary.

Do you love echidnas? Looking for a refreshing excursion for your gumboots? Want to make a constructive contribution to the Canberra environment … and discover why echidnas at Mulligans Flat wear nail polish on their quills?

Well, Mulligans Flat sanctuary is the place to be this Saturday, September 17 and again on Saturday, September 24 for the annual echidna sweep.

This annual count tracks the lives and habits of the spiky little critters who live at Mulligans Flat, the 1200-hectare woodland sanctuary in the heart of Canberra. It helps ecologists like Millie Sutherland-Saines see if their numbers are on the increase, where they go and what they do when they think no-one is watching – valuable research which helps us better understand the cute little egg-laying monotremes.

READ ALSO Echidna sex-trains point to firm population numbers in Gungahlin sanctuary

Millie said as they’re normally quite elusive creatures, keeping track of the Mulligans’ echidna numbers helps scientists understand more about them. Because they live within the confines of the vast sanctuary, amid the safety of a predator-proof fence, scientists can accurately monitor and record their numbers.

September is the best time to track them, with warmer weather approaching, echidnas will now be on the move, coming out from their winter hiding spots to forage for food.

“It is fascinating to see how far they go,” Millie said. “They’re quite good at camouflage and can sometimes look little bushes walking.”

Mulligans has been tracking the echidnas since 2015, with an average of about 50 identified each time – “that’s great because it shows there’s a good, stable population”.

Ironically, she said, the easiest time to track the native animals was when it was the hardest time for them – the drought.

“Up until we had all this rain, we could see echidnas from 500 metres or so away,” she said.

echidna

Volunteers are needed to find and count these little critters at Mulligans Flat Sanctuary this Saturday and next as part of the annual echidna sweep. Photo: Mulligans Flat.

“It was great for the survey, not so good though for the animals.”

With the current strong growth in vegetation, Millie, who has worked as outreach manager at Mulligans since 2016, said the echidnas may be trickier to find this year because there were so many more places to burrow into, but she encouraged people to get involved.

“I’ve never met anyone who’s actually said, ‘I hate echidnas’, I mean, how could you? They really are the most charismatic little things.

“We’d actually love to do sweeps on all the animals here, but we do echidnas because they are one of the easiest.

READ ALSO Wondering why there’s a spike in interest in echidnas? Let’s get straight to the point

“But when we do echidnas, people have the opportunity to see lots of other animals here too, like bettongs. There are also some amazing birds migrating back to Canberra now.

“You also get to be with people who also love the environment – it’s a great day for everyone. Just remember to bring your gumboots this time.”

Volunteers must be over 12, be moderately fit as a lot of walking is involved and should wear waterproof shoes and long pants. They should also bring their own water and lunch and will be needed from 9 am to about 2-3 pm.

If you can help this Saturday or next, email volunteer@woodlandsandwetlands.org.au

(And the nail polish? That’s used to mark the echidnas once they’ve been counted.)

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