Wild Mob, Hugo Spooner (owner of Avocet Nature Refuge) and wildlife ecologists from the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, have pioneered a new approach to threatened species management.
Research shows that 47% of juvenile Flashjacks don’t make it to adulthood, largely due to predation by feral cats. Yet adults Flashjacks can fend for themselves if accustomed to the presence of predators in the wild and their habitat remains healthy and well managed.
Fencing extensive areas and removing predators from within is incredibly expensive and ultimately will be limited to miniscule areas of Australia. Of course, large predator proof enclosures also have perpetually huge maintenance bills. Derek explains:
"The solution to save the Flashjack is relatively simple. We're protecting juvenile wallabies in a custom-built nursery until they're big enough to avoid being a target.
"While we also continue to control predators and monitor Flashjacks across Avocet Nature Refuge, operating the nursery will boost the adult breeding population and in turn increase total numbers of Flashjacks.
Wild (predator-savvy) females caught nearby are placed inside a 9ha predator-fenced enclosure with a select few lucky males. Young remain there until they reach 3kg. When they reach or exceed that weight, they're released to outside the fence.
Even with volunteer help, regular trapping within the enclosure to capture Flashjacks ready for release is expensive and very time consuming. For this reason we needed to semi-automate the process.
Of all places, we found a solution to this in Antarctica where researchers were using state of the art electronics and information technology. Nail-tails need to drink regularly so a water trough brings them through into the small pen at one end of the nursery enclosure.
At the entrance to this pen we're constructing a weighbridge, connected to a micro-chip scanner (all Flashjacks placed into the nursery are micro-chipped), and a webcam.
As Flashjacks enter the pen they're automatically weighed, identified by their micro-chip and photographed. All this information will then be uploaded to a webpage and can be accessed remotely. When young Flashjacks have reached 3kg they can be trapped and released outside."
Bush Heritage's volunteer program has allowed many of our volunteers to contribute to this compelling project. The picture shows Tom Sjolund (Techie Tom) setting up the gadgetry at the gate, which will be up and running in coming months.
Others have been helping by trying to round up the last persistent rabbits still in the enclosure, checking the fence for potential breaches, or back on Goonderoo Reserve helping with weeds or predator control.
The proximity of Goonderoo and its accommodation, and the volunteer program it supports, is making a valuable and efficient contribution to the project.