Seven platypus rescued from parched Tidbinbilla

Ian Bushnell 22 January 2020 28
Platypus

One of the rescued platypus receives a check-up at Taronga Zoo. Photos: Taronga Conservation Society Australia.

Half the platypus population at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve have had to be rescued from their disappearing ponds as the drought takes its toll on the ACT’s popular animal sanctuary.

Seven platypus – two males and five females – are now recovering at Taronga Zoo in Sydney after their life-saving rescue late last month when it was feared the water bodies would be completely dry within weeks, with the dire situation compounded by severe fire conditions.

Researchers from Taronga Conservation Society Australia and the UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Ecosystem Science teamed up with officers from ACT Parks and Conservation to rescue the unique animals on 27 December when there was a small window to access Tidbinbilla safely.

Taronga’s Manager of Conservation and Recovery Programs Andrew Elphinstone said it was feared the platypus would have perished in the worsening conditions.

“With an ever-decreasing water body comes the reduction in resources including food. It was feared there were not enough prey items to support the platypus population,” he said.

ACT Parks and Conservation Service regional manager Pete Cotsell said platypus were quite a fragile species and once stressed it was not long before they died.

“That’s why we took ours out so early because once they are distressed it is not far till mortality,” he said.

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

The rescue team at work in a parched pond at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

Mr Cotsell said the drought meant there was no water in the system to fill the drying ponds, and there were no escape routes as Tidbinbilla is a sanctuary designed to keep out predators.

About six or seven platypus were left in the top pond which remains full, and leading researchers had advised that was the right carrying capacity.

“If that gets worse and starts drying up we’ve got capacity to move them to Taronga, too,” he said.

Recent rainfall had hardly touched the surface at Tidbinbilla and there had been nothing for the actual wetland complex.

The rescued platypus would return home when the ponds hopefully filled up by autumn/winter.

Mr Cotsell said Tidbinbilla had a long working relationship with Taronga Park and other animals had previously been removed to Sydney when sick or conditions at the Reserve deteriorated.

The Zoo was one of Tidbinbilla’s primary stakeholders and the Reserve relied on it for advice and assistance.

Mr Cotsell said the platypus were very happy at Taronga and feeding, a primary indicator of how they were settling in.

“If stressed they’ll stop eating and their fur condition will deteriorate. We’ve had good advice from Taronga and our vets have been up there monitoring them,” he said.

Dr Sarah May

Dr Sarah May with one in the bag.

Rescue team member Dr Sarah May from ACT Parks and Conservation said the platypus had nowhere to go and would have almost certainly perished.

“I can’t thank Taronga and Dr Richard Kingsford’s team from UNSW enough for helping us save these animals. We will return them when conditions improve, but given how extreme conditions are currently, I fully expect that it will be many months before we see enough rain to replenish this wetland and warrant their return,” she said.

Platypus were once considered widespread across the eastern Australian mainland and Tasmania, although not a lot is known about them because of their secretive and nocturnal nature.

A new study, led by UNSW and supported by Taronga Conservation Society Australia, has for the first time examined the risks of extinction for platypus.

The study estimated that under current climate conditions and due to land clearing and habitat fragmentation by dams, platypus numbers had almost halved since European colonisation, leading to the extinction of local populations across about 40 per cent of the species’ range.

As a result of predicted climate change conditions, the losses forecast in the study were far greater because of increases in extreme drought frequencies and duration, such as the current dry spell.

Drought at Tidbinbilla

The drought is hitting hard at Tidbinbilla.

According to Professor Richard Kingsford, the Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW, platypus waterholes in some NSW rivers are drying up and stranding animals, as a result of the drought and exacerbated by river management.

“Our research has indicated that these incidences will likely increase in an increasingly dry future,” he said

The platypus is currently listed as ‘near threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Experts have recommended that this be downgraded to ‘vulnerable’.

Mr Cotsell said that while platypus populations in the Murrumbidgee River were not actively monitored, he believed continuous environmental flows out of the Cotter Dam were helping to maintain habitat and food sources.

“No deaths have been reported recently, so no news is good news,” he said.

The rescue team included Dr May and colleague veterinarian Dr Arianne Lowe, Taronga’s Wildlife Conservation Officer Dr Phoebe Meagher and platypus keeper Rob Dockerill, and researchers from UNSW led by Tahneal Hawke.


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28 Responses to Seven platypus rescued from parched Tidbinbilla
Stephanie Moore Stephanie Moore 5:23 pm 23 Jan 20

Anna Smith even being moved from our reserves 😞

    Ali Bear Ali Bear 12:06 am 24 Jan 20

    Stephanie Moore they will be returned when conditions improve

    Stephanie Moore Stephanie Moore 8:46 am 24 Jan 20

    Ali Bear yes, I know & I’m so pleased about the measures they are taking to help protect this and other species through these conditions. It’s amazing!

    Helping as O/S friend keep track of some of those measures xo

    Anna Smith Anna Smith 9:05 am 24 Jan 20

    That's it! I'm coming over there and saving all the platyes.

Becci Anne Becci Anne 2:25 pm 23 Jan 20

Angus Becky James 😢 poor platypuses

Nicolas Grandjean-Thomsen Nicolas Grandjean-Thomsen 12:01 pm 23 Jan 20

Olivia we have to rescue our platypus

Kerry Buonopane Kerry Buonopane 10:48 am 23 Jan 20

Lucky they have been rescued ❤️

SP Brogues SP Brogues 12:32 am 23 Jan 20

Many people have contacted the ACT Government about non existent water in many of the reserves that feed our wildlife in particular Majura and Black Mountain. There has been no action from them to replenish water. Our wildlife is thirsty!

    Ali Bear Ali Bear 12:03 am 24 Jan 20

    SP Brogues luckily the community it trying to take action on this. Sadly some people in the community attempt to wreck those efforts.

Joanne Egan Joanne Egan 10:15 pm 22 Jan 20

Erin Daniell they were there! We just weren’t looking closely enough! Come back in July so we can have another search!!

Michelle Stemm Michelle Stemm 10:10 pm 22 Jan 20

Thank you. ❤️❤️❤️

Kathy Schneider Kathy Schneider 9:55 pm 22 Jan 20

They have a good record there, with a breeding program.

Leanne Williams Leanne Williams 9:48 pm 22 Jan 20

Glad they have been moved. We were so lucky to have seen them when we went :)

Margie Dorman Margie Dorman 9:39 pm 22 Jan 20

Thankgod. They are so precious. ♥️

Kellie Whyman Kellie Whyman 9:28 pm 22 Jan 20

Thank you for saving them!

Mick Andrews Mick Andrews 9:05 pm 22 Jan 20

Bec Andrews omg.. i wonder about the turtles also

Elisabeth Wise Elisabeth Wise 9:03 pm 22 Jan 20

Glad they are being cared for, thank you!

Gerda Lawrence Gerda Lawrence 8:52 pm 22 Jan 20

Thank you. Not enough done for platypuses

    Fiona Tan Fiona Tan 12:04 am 24 Jan 20

    Gerda Lawrence the water level was so low, glad they’ve been rescued

    Gerda Lawrence Gerda Lawrence 9:45 am 24 Jan 20

    Fiona Tan hopeful they survive

Sandra Naden Sandra Naden 8:43 pm 22 Jan 20

So pleased they have been taken to safety.

Brooke Marshall Brooke Marshall 8:42 pm 22 Jan 20

Paddy Richardson 😩 remember looking for these guys?? Sad.

Dawnie Martin Dawnie Martin 8:16 pm 22 Jan 20

I spent two weeks there on my teaching prac many years ago 🎁😢

Billie Williamson Billie Williamson 8:15 pm 22 Jan 20

Mollie Zaja I went there last year with Shilohs class 😭😭😭

Nicole Murray Nicole Murray 8:14 pm 22 Jan 20

Thank goodness they have been rescued 💙💛

Jess Durrell Jess Durrell 8:09 pm 22 Jan 20

Bridget Cockburn our poor baby’s

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