Early in 2020, amidst the devastating bushfires that ravaged Australia, Bear, the USC x IFAW koala detection dog was deployed to Peak View in NSW, at the site of Two Thumbs Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Sanctuary, run by James Fitzgerald, had been destroyed by the Good Good Fire on 23rd January and was dealt a second blow when a firefighting air tanker crashed while trying to protect the sanctuary, killing the three US firefighter crew onboard.The Hercules water bomber (an aircraft filled with water to dump thousands of litres of water and fire retardant on out-of-control blazes) had been deployed in an effort to regain control of the fires at Two Thumbs as the flames were too large to be dealt with by fire trucks.
Rescuing Jessie and Amelia
“When we heard the devastating news of Two Thumbs Wildlife Sanctuary being destroyed this past January, we deployed USC X IFAW’s detection dog, Bear, to help search for survivors” says IFAW’s Josey Sharrad.
Bear and the team visited the area to look for surviving koalas in need of rescue. Using the scent of their fur, Bear located a mother koala and her joey. The koalas, named Jessie and Amelia (pictured above), were brought to the Australian National University, where they received emergency care and embarked on a specialized rehabilitation plan led by Dr. Karen Ford. During a checkup, the team performed an ultrasound and discovered exciting news — Jessie was pregnant!
TODAY, on National Threatened Species Day, we wanted to share with you some of our work bringing threatened species back from the brink with this special footage of our first large-scale Regent Honeyeater Release in NSW. In June, BirdLife Australia and our partners released 20 of these Critically Endangered birds into NSW’s Hunter Valley, into one of the largest remaining Regent Honeyeater strongholds.
Over the last few months, it’s been wonderful to observe captive birds interacting with wild birds. One of our transmitter birds led us to at least six wild Regents, and already four of these birds appeared to have paired up — a promising sign for spring!
Join us in celebrating with this special video we’ve put together.
For those that don’t know me, my name is Mick Roderick – and I’m the NSW Woodland Bird Program Manager here at BirdLife Australia.
Today, on National Threatened Species Day, we wanted to share with you some of our work bringing threatened species back from the brink with this special footage of our first large-scale Regent Honeyeater Release in NSW. In June, BirdLife Australia and our partners released 20 of these Critically Endangered birds into NSW’s Hunter Valley, into one of the largest remaining Regent Honeyeater strongholds.
Over the last few months, it’s been wonderful to observe captive birds interacting with wild birds. One of our transmitter birds led us to at least six wild Regents, and already four of these birds appeared to have paired up – a promising sign for spring!
Join us in celebrating with this special video we’ve put together.
Regent Honeyeaters are a ‘flagship species’ — so supporting them helps improve the status of other birds that share their habitat. When you help save one bird from extinction, other birds will follow. We hope this will be the first of many NSW releases, and with only a few hundred Regents left, these releases could mean the difference between extinction and survival.
Your voice can help us bring our precious birds back from the brink.
Right now we need your voice more than ever to ensure our national environment laws actually protect nature. Our Federal politicians are considering these laws right now, and they need to know that Australians from all walks of life care.
WHEN YOU THINK of lyrebirds, what comes to mind may be the sound of camera clicks, chainsaws and the songs of other birds. While the mimicry of lyrebirds is remarkable, it is not the only striking feature of this species.
ABOVE: Male Superb Lyrebird in display.Alex Maisey, Author provided.
Ecosystem engineers change the environment in ways that impact on other species. Without lyrebirds, eastern Australia’s forests would be vastly different places.
What is an ecosystem engineer?
Ecosystem engineers exist in many environments. By disturbing the soil, they create new habitats or alter existing habitats, in ways that affect other organisms, such as plants and fungi.
A well-known example is the beaver, in North America, which uses logs and mud to dam a stream and create a deep pond. In doing so, it changes the aquatic habitat for many species, including frogs, herons, fish and aquatic plants. Other examples include bandicoots and bettongs.
The Superb Lyrebird acts as an ecosystem engineer by its displacement of leaf litter and soil when foraging for food. Lyrebirds use their powerful claws to rake the forest floor, exposing bare earth and mixing and burying litter, while seeking invertebrate prey such as worms, centipedes and spiders.
To study the role of the lyrebird as an engineer, we carried out a two-year experiment in Victoria’s Central Highlands, with three experimental treatments.
First, a fenced treatment, where lyrebirds were excluded from fenced square plots measuring 3m wide.
Second, an identical fenced plot but in which we simulated lyrebird foraging with a three-pronged hand rake (about the width of a lyrebird’s foot). This mimicked soil disturbance by lyrebirds but without the birds eating the invertebrates that lived there.
The third treatment was an unfenced, open plot (of the same size) in which wild lyrebirds were free to forage as they pleased.
Over a two-year period, we tracked changes in the litter and soil, and measured the amount of soil displaced inside and outside of these plots.
Lyrebirds dig up a lot of dirt
On average, foraging by wild lyrebirds resulted in a staggering 155 tonnes per hectare of litter and soil displaced each year throughout these forests.
To the best of our knowledge, this is more than any other digging vertebrate, worldwide.
To put this in context, most digging vertebrates around the world, such as pocket gophers, moles, bandicoots and bettongs, displace between 10–20 tonnes of material per hectare, per year.
But how much does an individual lyrebird displace? At one study location we estimated the density of the lyrebird population to be approximately one lyrebird for every 2.3 hectares of forest, thanks to the work of citizen scientists led by the Sherbrooke Lyrebird Study Group.
Based on this estimate, and to use our dump truck analogy, a single lyrebird will displace approximately 11 dump trucks of litter and soil in a single year.
Changes to the ground layer
After two years of lyrebird exclusion, leaf litter in the fenced plots was approximately three times deeper than in the unfenced plots. Soil compaction was also greater in the fenced plots.
Where lyrebirds foraged, the soil easily crumbled and the litter layer never fully recovered to a lyrebird-free state before foraging re-occurred.
This dynamic process of disturbance by lyrebirds has been going on for millennia, profoundly shaping these forests. For organisms such as centipedes, spiders and worms living in the litter and soil, the forest floor under the influence of lyrebirds may provide new opportunities that would not exist in their absence.
An ecosystem ravaged by fire
The Australian megafires of 2019–20 resulted in approximately 40% of the Superb Lyrebird’s entire distribution being incinerated, according to a preliminary analysis by BirdLife Australia.
So great was the extent of these fires that the conservation status of the lyrebird has been thrown into question. That the conservation status has fallen — from “common” to potentially being “threatened” — from a single event is deeply concerning.
Loss of lyrebird populations on this scale will have potentially far-reaching effects on forest ecology.
In the face of climate change and a heightened risk of severe wildfire, understanding the role that species such as the Superb Lyrebird play in ecosystems is more important than ever.
Without lyrebirds, eastern Australia’s forests would be vastly different places, with impacts extending well beyond the absence of their glorious song to other animals who rely on these “ecosystem engineers”.
Chris Gulaptis MP and the Nationals declare war on koalas
CLARENCE NATIONAL PARTY MP Chris Gulaptis has opened a new front in the National Party’s war on koalas and conservation by demanding the new laws designed to prevent the species’ extinction be scrapped. 
“On current trends, koalas are on track to become extinct in NSW by 2050,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Chris Gambian said.
“The laws that Mr Gulaptis wants to tear up were drafted well before the summer bushfires, which killed thousands, wiped out local populations and pushed many others closer to extinction.
“If anything, the government should be considering strengthening laws to protect this iconic species.”
Mr Gambian said Mr Gulaptis’s threat to sit on the cross benches if the government didn’t scrap koala protections was the latest in a series of attacks by National MPs on koalas.
“Nationals Leader John Barilaro has aggressively pushed to continue logging koala forests after the bushfires destroyed millions of hectares of prime habitat,” Mr Gambian said.
“Several forests on the north coast that were among the last unburned koalas forests in the state have been targeted by Forestry Corporation for intensive logging with the state government’s blessing.
“The Nationals are also behind moves to slash and burn national parks and allow cows to trample conservation reserves.
“If we want our children and grandchildren to see koalas in the wild, we have to stop destroying their forests.
“If Mr Gulaptis and John Barilaro get their way, the demise of the koala is guaranteed to happen even faster than projected.”
By Kerrin Thomas, ABC Mid North Coast. 27 July 2020.
A HOUSING DEVELOPMENT refused by Mid Coast Council on the grounds it failed to address koala protection issues has also lost an appeal to the Land and Environment Court.
The applicants wanted to build six single-storey units on a site between Gollan Avenue and Beecher Street at Tinonee, near Taree, on the NSW Mid North Coast.
Despite a recommendation from staff that it be approved, MidCoast councillors refused the development with a vote of seven to two, citing reasons including a failure to adequately address koala protection issues.
That refusal was contested in the Land and Environment Court, which also dismissed the appeal.
In her judgement, Commissioner Sarah Bish described the site as mostly grass, with “a few mature trees scattered across the site”.
80% redirected to other programs — only 20% paid to wildlife carers.
THE NSW LABOR Opposition has disclosed that the state government’s much-hyped million dollar fund for wildlife carers in bushfire-affected regions has been rorted by the government itself, with only 22 percent of the money being paid to wildlife carers.
At least half of the Wildlife Carers Bushfire Fund has already been redirected to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to fund other programs, including $62,000 on mapping exercises and $438,000 on two new staff positions within the Department to oversee wildlife rehabilitators.
The NSW Labor Opposition has called for the full funds to be reinstated and given to wildlife carers as promised.
When the fund was announced — to much fanfare — the Environment Minister Matt Kean’s claimed that “the funding will help wildlife rehabilitators respond and prepare for natural emergencies. Community rehabilitation groups and the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife will be able to access the funds.”
However, answers provided by the Minister to supplementary budget estimates questions reveal that only $220,000 has been paid to wildlife rehabilitators, with $500,000 spent internally and the remaining $280,000 unspent, six months later.
According to the Minister, the remaining funds will now be allocated towards repairing damaged infrastructure and will not be given to wildlife carers.
“The Government has been caught red-handed rorting their own wildlife carer fund,” Labor’s environment spokesperson, Kate Washington, said.
“This money was meant to go into the hands of our incredible wildlife carers to help keep injured animals alive. Instead, the Government stole 80 percent of the funds, and only a fraction of the money made its way to actual wildlife carers. It’s reprehensible.”
“Some entire regions ravaged by bushfires only received $3,000 from this fund, like the Blue Mountains and the New England region. Meanwhile, $500,000 was sneakily redirected back to the Department itself.”
“Koala mapping is important, of course, and so is oversight. But if you promise one million dollars for wildlife carers, you should deliver on that promise. The government shouldn’t steal half the money to pay itself, and then redirect the rest to other programs.”
“Matt Kean should hang his head in shame for giving false hope to the hard-working volunteers who are still struggling to keep injured animals and ecosystems alive.”
“The Environment Department already has staff who liaise with and oversee wildlife carers. They were already doing environmental mapping following the bushfires. Why does the government need to steal 80 percent of this fund to cover its day-to-day work?”
“This Minister loves a cute and cuddly headline, but when push comes to shove, and when the media attention wanes, Matt Kean has quietly cut and run with the money.”
“Wildlife carers are amazing, their work is hard and heartbreaking — they deserve the support they were promised,” concluded Ms Washington.