East Coast Wine Trail

East Coast Wine Trail
East Coast Wine Trail

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Resilient Kangaroo Island wildlife bounces back

Rare Kangaroo Island wildlife species including the dunnart (above) and the KI echidna have been captured on wildlife cameras by the non-governmental organisation Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife.

Sightings of tiny dunnarts using motion-sensing cameras are particularly heartening after fears habitat destruction would decimate the threatened nocturnal marsupials, which only number between 300 and 500.

Bush fires burned about 200,000 hectares of land on the island - almost half its land mass - and especially protected areas of bush in which dunnarts are found.

South Australia’s chief ecologist at the Department for Environment and Water Dr Dan Rogers said specialist advice from some of the world’s leading experts in the rare species was helping.

“Prof Chris Dickman, he knows more about dunnarts generally than anyone else in the world, he was on the phone to us talking us through the biggest risk during the fire and immediately after,” Dr Rogers said.

“After the fire the dunnarts that survived were being found in relatively high densities in unburnt patches and we thought they would be honey pots for the remaining cats on the island… we tried to reduce the risk from the cats.”

Now, the mouse-like creatures that have a pouch like a kangaroo for their babies and are related to quolls and Tasmanian devils, are looking safer.

“They have got a lot of fight for their size,” Dr Rogers said.

More than 90% of the dunnart’s habitat was burned and the non-governmental organisation Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife is working with landowners and National Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia to monitor the threatened species.

About 50 motion-sensing cameras are set up in 10 of the larger unburnt patches of parkland and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy has built a cat-proof fence around one dunnart population on private land on the west coast of Kangaroo Island.

Early work to use aeration pumps to mimic water movement and improve circulation also appears to have helped save the only platypus habitat on the island in the burned Rocky River region of the Flinders Chase National Park.

The rare duck-billed semi-aquatic mammals survived the fire that destroyed vegetation along with the nearby visitor centre, housing and campground.

Fears ash and soil runoff from land denuded of vegetation would rob their pond of oxygen were quickly addressed.

“We installed the pumps before two days of rain, a lot of ash went into the pond but the platypus survived that with the pumps providing benefits,” Dr Rogers said.

He said volunteer support and donations from around the world to protect wildlife had been overwhelming, even famed actors like Jamie Foxx in the United States raising funds for Kangaroo Island wildlife.

“Some of these species people around the world have never even heard about and suddenly people are donating to help them, the profile of threatened species throughout the bushfires has been remarkable,” Dr Rogers said.

“There are many species on Kangaroo Island found elsewhere in the country, but because they have been isolated they have their own unique forms.”

One of the most heart-warming images for Dr Rogers occurred during a walk through the charred and lifeless fire ground a few weeks ago.

“An echidna comes trundling around out there just getting on with its business,” he said.

"It was particularly positive to see the endangered short-beaked echidna was still surviving on the blackened grounds where there was little sign of life."

Dr Rogers said despite the creatures being slow moving they were resourceful, many burrowed underground or sheltered under logs to survive the flames – their favourite food, termites and ants, seemed to have survived in a similar fashion.

There was an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 of the unique echidnas living on the island before the fire but about 50% of their habitat was burned.

This subspecies has longer, thinner and paler-coloured spines than echidnas found elsewhere on mainland Australia.

Kangaroo Island is also home to an important population of koalas that because of their isolation have remained free of the Chlamydia infection plaguing mainland populations.

Before the bush fires there was an estimated 50,000 of the iconic creatures living on the island but now early estimations put that figure at between 5000 and 10,000. 

# Information from The Lead South Australia 

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