Of Thylacines and threatened species
Our ancient continent is a very special place. A place with extraordinary fauna. Critters which bounce, glide and slither. Incredible flora. Grand old trees.
As an island continent, Australia is home to more than 500,000 animal and plant species. Many are unique, found nowhere else on planet Earth. They speak of millions of years of evolution.
Once upon a time, the rivers ran with colossal freshwater fish, the mountains with abundant native animals, the grassy open valleys with the iconic Australian marsupials.
Sadly, European settlers not only put their footsteps upon this landscape, they brought their hard-hooved horses, pigs, deer, goats and other animals. Their cats roamed and went feral. Foxes feasted. Rabbits took to the grasslands, dominating the landscape. The influence of these exotic animals was widespread.
Australia now has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world, with 30 native mammals alone having become extinct since European settlement. Never to be seen again.
In 1996 a day was set aside to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the death of a Tasmanian tiger. The last of its kind, this lonely thylacine died in a Hobart Zoo in 1936. The day became known as Threatened Species Day.
Such occasions provide insights. Time to pause, reflect on the effect our activities on our environment, our landscape, our planet. A similar fate to that of the thylacine still threatens many others species.
But there are things we can do. Are doing. The ACT has strategies and action plans to protect our many threatened species and ecological communities. To protect the species by helping to maintain viable wild populations in the ACT and by managing their habitat so natural processes can continue to operate.
The new ACT Aquatic and Riparian Conservation Strategy has action plans to help seven threatened species including the Tuggeranong Lignum, which has only a handful of wild plants left.
The Native Grasslands Conservation Strategy, published last year has action plans to help threatened grasslands and seven threatened species, including the Grassland Earless Dragon.
Consultation has just begun on an action plan to save the locally threatened Spotted-tailed Quoll. These marsupials have declined since European settlement, perhaps following the introduction of strychnine baiting in the Canberra district in 1861, and today threatened by destruction of habitat, inappropriate use of fire , competition and predation from introduced carnivores.
To glean how we are changing the future for these carnivorous quolls and other threatened species see their action plans at http://www.environment.act.gov.au/cpr/conservation_and_ecological_communities/threatened_species_action_plans
Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks & Conservation Service.
Article also appeared on 18 September 2018 in The Chronicle