The Dirty Truth about Recreational Use

Just after sunrise on Monday the 17th of November, myself and fellow student Nicholas Marin Correa headed out to ACT Parks and Conservation Service Stromlo depot for a day with the rangers. The journey out to the depot was quick, as we both sat there excitingly predicting the different jobs we may get to assist the rangers with. What our morning consisted of however could not have been predicted. Cleaning toilets, picking up rubbish and cleaning BBQ’s. We did this, no joke, for over 4 hours. We would drive to a campsite/recreational area, get out, clean the toilets, pick up all the rubbish, give the BBQ’s a scrub and then move onto the next site. It sounds like the rangers just picked the ‘shittest’ jobs and gave it to the two volunteers, right? Well this is a standard Monday procedure for the whole depot- get out there and clean up the mess recreational users had left from the weekend. It seemed a bit outrageous that these jobs were left to the rangers. After asking Darren (senior ranger) why they bothered doing these jobs. He simply replied with “because we care. If we don’t who will?” (Roso, 2018). And he was right, someone must do these jobs to keep human influence at a minimum.

At lunch, Nicholas and I were discussing the underwhelming morning we had just experienced. We even got to the point where we were considering doing another work experience as we didn’t think we were doing anything related to biodiversity conservation. After discussing and analysing the impact humans had on the environment, we realised that the work we were doing was in some way biodiversity conservation. As we have learnt throughout lectures this semester, loss of habitat due to human influences has many negative impacts on biodiversity. This was further demonstrated to us in the afternoon, where we got to do something interesting.

The Cotter Cave is an extremely important and unique ecosystem. Inside, the survival of the bent-winged bat is threatened due to disturbance from recreational users (The Canberra Times, 2018). After consultation with experts about the biodiversity significance of the cave, the entrance was gated and locked several decades ago (Roso, 2018). Every so often though, the rangers will inspect the cave and find that several bars have been grinded off, so access could be gained. This happened last week, with two bars disappearing and rubbish being found inside the cave. Our job this afternoon, was to assist the rangers in welding new bars back onto the cage, with further reinforcement to prevent it occurring again (figures below). I was shocked by the effort people had gone through to access a site that had obviously been blocked for conservation purposes.

Reflecting on my experiences from the day, it was quite confronting seeing the influence humans are indirectly (rubbish etc.) and directly (break and entering conservation sites) having on our natural environment. It also made me aware of how complex biodiversity conservation issues can be, with many different management approaches required.

References

Harry Andrews (u5562309)

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Reconnecting with nature at Tidbinbilla

Accompanying the wildlife rangers in their daily rounds struck me as a similar system to a commercial farm. I found myself performing familiar tasks such as when I’m helping out Dad on our sheep and crop farm in Inverleigh; feeding out hay, jumping out the ute to get the gates, feeding animals, cleaning water troughs and checking the electric fences. Since moving from rural Victoria to Canberra to study at ANU, its outdoor experiences like these that I’ve missed. After escaping the concrete jungle of ugly new apartments along cotter road, the landscape changed into familiar farmland passing cattle and sheep properties. This then changed into pine forests and then eventually the marvellous hills encompassing Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.  However, unlike a commercial farm I grew up on which manages the land and raises introduced species to derive profit, Tidbinbilla has been managed since 1971 for conservation and native species are recognised for their intrinsic value, which I saw many visitors appreciating during the day (Neuve 1989).

The wildlife rangers sweet ride to do the rounds, a step up from the quad bikes we ride on the farm

 

Conservation of species has become a major focus of the reserve, especially for three species. These are the Corroboree Frog, Brush-tale Wallaby and the Bettong, which were critically endangered before a successful breeding program was conducted (ACT Government 2017a). The captive populations have now been able to release and transport species to other locations around Australia. For example, one of the Brush-tale’s which I helped catch will be flying to its new home at Wildlife HQ, a zoo in Queensland. However, my discussions with the rangers raised concerns that our conservation efforts are bitter-sweet. They expressed their confliction that in order to save the species the breeding program requires captive populations, such as the wallabies to be kept in enclosures when really they would love to see them hopping free in the wild.

A Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby in her enclosure

 

This provoked me to think about at what point species are worth saving and when it is better for nature to take its course? Without addressing the drivers of their extinction will these species simply become extinct in 50 years time? But the delight I felt later in the afternoon when I saw a long-nosed potoroo for the first time, challenged the thought of ever giving up on species. I was surprised that I had never heard of this species, however further research explained that the endangered population has suffered since European settlement especially due to predation by introduced species (Norton et. al. 2010).

My first sighting of a long-nosed native potoroo

 

I also couldn’t help adoring over the Koala’s, especially the little joey which allowed us to discover he was a male while I visited. This meant he can now be given a name from a list of indigenous names the wildlife rangers have been provided with. This is a contemporary way to maintain links to indigenous heritage and educate visitors of its significance. Maintaining this cultural connection to the Ngunnawal people of the Canberra region is another important purpose of the reserve, reflected in its name as Tidbinbinbilla is derived from Jedbinbilla meaning ‘where boys were made men’ (ACT Government 2017b). Reflected in its name Tidbinbilla – which is derived from Jedbinbilla, meaning ‘where boys were made men.’

The little male joey I met peaking out from between the gum leaves while clinging onto his mother

Reflecting on my day at Tidbinbilla, I’ve developed a greater understanding of diverse values the park can hold for both people and nature, and the pivotal management role of rangers to ensure its perpetuity. While governments focus on development to improve humans living standards, it seems much more value can be restored by funding conservation and the maintenance of heritage in our remaining natural landscapes. This notion is supported by Wilson’s (1984) biophilia hypothesis and studies since which have found experiences with nature enhance human wellbeing (Molsher & Townsend 2016; Sandifer et. al. 2015). Whilst land clearing and degradation continues to threaten biodiversity, simultaneously the increasing number of protected areas now reaching 15% of total land mass provides a sense of hope (Protected Planet 2017).

 

References:

ACT Government 2017a, Tidbinbilla, available at https://www.tidbinbilla.act.gov.au/learn/tidbinbilla (accessed 17 Sept. 2018)

ACT Government 2017b, Aboriginal connections to Tidbinbilla, available at https://www.tidbinbilla.act.gov.au/learn/tidbinbilla/aboriginal-connections-to-tidbinbilla (accessed 17 Sept, 2018)

Molsher, R. & Townsend, M. 2016, “Improving wellbeing and environmental stewardship through volunteering in nature”, EcoHealth, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 151-155.

Neuve, H.M., Neave, H.M. & Tanton, M.T. 1989, “The effects of grazing by kangaroos and rabbits on the vegetation and the habitat of other fauna in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, Australian Capital Territory”, Australian Wildlife Research, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 337-351.

Norton, M.A., Claridge, A.W., French, K. & Prentice, A. 2010, “Population biology of the long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus) in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales”, Australian Journal of Zoology, vol. 58, no. 6, pp. 362-368.

Protected Planet 2017, Increased Growth of protected areas in 2017, available at https://www.protectedplanet.net/c/increased-growth-of-protected-areas-in-2017 (accessed 17 Sept. 2018)

Sandifer, P.A., Sutton-Grier, A.E. and Ward, B.P., 2015. Exploring connections among nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human health and well-being: Opportunities to enhance health and biodiversity conservation. Ecosystem Services, 12, pp.1-15.

Wilson, E. 1984, Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-07442-4.

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Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

During my work experience at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve I was exposed to a variety of areas from working with the wildlife team, rangers and other volunteers. To start the day, I assisted the wildlife team with their captive breeding program of the critically endangered Brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata). With 40 only left in the wild, this program is very important as it makes up 70% of the captive breeding population in Australia. What I found particularly interesting about this program is their cross-fostering technique. This technique is used to increase the reproduction rate by removing the joeys from their mother and pairing them with a foster mother of a similar species like the yellow-footed rock-wallaby. In doing so, the effort required by the mother to nurture her young is eliminated and the energy is spent elsewhere in reproducing more offspring.

Upon returning to the depo, I then sat in on a presentation from a year 10 student from Daramalan College, on the topic of grass trees. These trees are very interesting as like any other tree you can decipher the age of the tree and the certain environmental events by looking at its interior. By using a hacksaw and other instruments a quarter of the tree is cut back, exposing the inside without compromising the health of the tree as the core of the tree remains intact. From this you can then see the age of the tree by counting the black lines between the layers. In the reserve these trees only grow on average 1-1.5cm per year, making them 100s of years old. You can also decipher the year upon which certain bushfire events occurred. This is made evident as the trees produce resin over the top of the tree, causing deformities such a change in direction of growth or creates multiple stems.

A typical grass tree in the reserve

Close up of a grass tree, showing the distinct black lines between layers

After the presentation, I then set out with aboriginal rangers to go look at these trees at the reserve. As I was talking to the rangers and looking at the trees, it was very evident that these trees had strong ties with the indigenous populations, as they showed me how to make glue from the resin produced by the trees. We were also able to observe certain bushfire events in the mid 1900’s as the trees were very distorted and grew in odd shapes.

To finish the day, I set out with a volunteer, wildlife officer and another ranger called Rocky. Here we moved a temporary koala enclosure to a different area of the reserve to welcome a new koala. Made up a series of star pickets and large plastic fence sheets we enclosed a series of trees to create enough habitat for the koala.

The work undertaken at the reserve places a huge emphasis on conservation as shown through their work with the koalas and the wallabies. I would like to thank the team at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, especially John Freeman for organizing my work experience and providing me with the opportunity.

Brody Caddis, u6047601

All Photos by Brody Caddis

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How Can We Save the Regent Honeyeater?

By Jack Stodart

The regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia) is a critically endangered bird endemic to eastern Australia. Over the last few decades, there has been a dramatic decline in the populations of the regent honeyeater. Two of the most significant threats to the species are habitat loss and attacks from other birds, particularly noisy miners (Manorina melanocephala).

ANU PhD student Ross Crates is investigating these two threats and working on solutions. Over three days in September 2018, I assisted Ross with his research and learned how we might save the regent honeyeater.

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Ross Crates and fellow student Courtney Webber identify birds by their calls.

Tackling noisy miners

Adjacent to the Goulburn River National Park in eastern NSW is a biodiversity offset site purchased to offset a nearby coal mine. In one section of the property, noisy miners have been culled, and at another section they have been left. We surveyed bird species in the control and treatment sections to see whether culling noisy miners was leading to greater abundance and diversity of other bird species.

So far, the culling appears to have been highly successful, both for the regent honeyeater and several other native songbirds. Ross has also found that after culling, the noisy miners are slow to return, providing longer protection for other birds.

 

Restoring habitat

Restoring habitat is unfortunately not as easy. Regent honeyeaters require a few important habitat features.

Yellow box blossom (Eucalyptus melliodora) is a critical food source, providing long flowering periods and ample nectar. Mugga ironbark has been shown to be correlated with higher habitat selection by regent honeyeaters. The blossom of various species of mistletoe also supply nectar. However, some species of mistletoe have been dying off to some degree, particularly Amyema cambagei, which grows on river she-oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana subsp. cunninghamiana). Regent honeyeaters also often breed and nest in river she-oak along river banks.

Left: Bare downward-pointing branches of dead mistletoe on a river she-oak. Right: Natural river she-oak regeneration in the Goulburn River.

This offset site, previously a grazing farm, is somewhat typical of the region. Hilltops have remained densely wooded, but flat areas around the river have been highly cleared. Unfortunately, the river flats are where most of the yellow box and mugga ironbark occur.

The goal is to revegetate these flats with yellow box and other species that would have naturally occurred there, and that provide suitable habitat for regent honeyeaters as well as a host of other threatened native birds. Fortunately as well, we saw that there has naturally been strong recruitment of river she-oak along the river banks in the offset property.

Left: Tree plantings at the Capertee Valley National Park. Right: River flats at the offset property that Ross hopes can be replanted.

The good news is that if these areas can be revegetated, the noisy miners are not likely to return. Noisy miners are ‘edge specialists’, adapted to living on the boundaries of wooded areas or along open river banks, near open scrub or grassland. By reducing the area of ‘edge’ woodland, we may also be able reduce competition and attacks from noisy miners.

The even better news is that by protecting the regent honeyeater, we are also protecting threatened tree species and myriad other native birds. While we didn’t spot any regent honeyeaters this time, we did see speckled warblers (Chthonicola sagittata), brown treecreepers (Climacteris picumnus victoriae), and even a spotted harrier (Circus assimilis), all of which stand to benefit from Ross’ research.

 

All photos: Jack Stodart

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Agriculture or Biodiversity Conservation: Do We Need To Choose?

As the world’s human population reaches 7.6 billion people[i], it is striking to consider the sheer magnitude of the agricultural practices that are required to keep up with feeding this expanding population. Increased land clearing to accommodate large-scale, commercial agriculture poses a considerable threat to the biodiversity of native flora and fauna and is a significant driver of their decline[ii]. Habitat fragmentation is a key pressure involved in the loss of biodiversity. This is due to the fact that populations may become isolated with no gene flow occurring between the different groups, allowing for an increased rate of inbreeding along with lower rates of reproductive success[iii]. Habitat fragmentation also prevents populations from recolonizing areas that have been subjected to localised extinction, limiting the abundance of the species[iv]. Butler et al. (2007) also suggest that habitat fragmentation drastically affects specialist species, as they are heavily dependent on unique niches[v]. This leaves us with a tricky question: do we have to choose between maintaining productive agriculture or conserving biodiversity? My answer is no.

Compromise is key

Jeggaline, a farm located just outside of Tharwa, A.C.T. Image source: Sophie Bean

I had the pleasure of volunteering in a conservation project that directly addressed the problem of maintaining biodiversity in areas of high agricultural density. Jeggaline, a farm located just outside of Tharwa, A.C.T, is making significant progress in addressing farmland conservation issues and are working closely with A.C.T Parks Rangers and conservation volunteers to show that a compromise can be struck between farmers and conservationists. Here, the farmers have put aside valuable farmland in order to create large wildlife corridors that will accommodate the movement of fauna across the agricultural landscapes. During my time at the site, we planted over 160 seedlings that comprised of species native to the area such as Red-Stem Wattle, Apple Box, Red Box, Yellow Box and Blackwood. This project will provide key pathways for threatened species such as the Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang) and Speckled Warbler (Pyrrholaemus sagittatus) to navigate their way to adjacent habitats using native floral environments. This will hopefully allow successful gene flow to occur between populations within the species and increase their genetic rusticity, as well as increasing their access to a wider range of food and shelter.

Jeggaline Wildlife Corridor. Image Source: Sophie Bean

Reflecting upon my time in the field and my familiarity of biodiversity conservation issues, I think that agriculture and conservation can reach a compromise. Although it may not be an idyllic situation for either party, it is possible to find a position where fundamental needs may be met for both agriculturalists and native species. I believe that biodiversity has a strong chance at being preserved by eliminating habitat isolation and increasing the corridors through which the animals can move. Jeggaline was a clear example of the great work people are doing to protect and conserve biodiversity with a minimal amount of interference on vital agricultural practices.

I’d like to thank Brian from Conservation Volunteers, the farmers at Jeggaline and Ranger Brian from A.C.T Parks for allowing me to take part in this project and gain first hand experience in vital conservation issues.

Blog Written By: u6102723

References

[i] Current World Population. Worldometers. Accessed on 3/09/2018 at 6:08pm at: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj-r5zEsJ7dAhXZ7GEKHedEDcsQFjADegQICxAL&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.worldometers.info%2Fworld-population%2F&usg=AOvVaw2aa5LDgvtdSVuTtXE2JGkz

[ii] Butler, S.J., Vickery, J.A. and Norris, K., 2007. Farmland biodiversity and the footprint of agriculture. Science, 315(5810), pp.381-384.

[iii] Fahrig, L., 2003. Effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity. Annual review of ecology, evolution, and systematics, 34(1), pp.487-515.

[iv] Opdam, P. and Wascher, D., 2004. Climate change meets habitat fragmentation: linking landscape and biogeographical scale levels in research and conservation. Biological conservation, 117(3), pp.285-297.

[v] Butler, S.J., Vickery, J.A. and Norris, K., 2007. Farmland biodiversity and the footprint of agriculture. Science, 315(5810), pp.381-384.

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5am starts win wallaby hearts.

Driving into the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve I found my usually hectic speeds slowed considerably to account for the wildlife ambling across the road. Sitting on the northern edge of the Australian Alps, Tidbinbilla houses some of the last remaining breeding populations of the critically endangered Brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata). The most recent data suggests there are only 40 Brush-tails left in the wild with the population at Tidbinbilla making up 70% of the total captive breeding population (ACT Government, 2017). Out competed in their dwindling home ranges and hunted to near collapse by introduced species the Rock-wallaby is in dire straits.

Figure 1. Jed and I. Misplacing my phone in the breeding enclosure meant the day went mostly undocumented. With the exception of a few happy snaps taken by Jade (Fountain 2018).

Wildlife officers start early and at 7.30am Jade and I rolled out to the breeding enclosures where the Yellow-foot (Petrogale xanthopus) and Brush-tailed rock-wallabies were housed. As we cleaned the enclosures, Jade talked about the effective but discontinued surrogacy breeding program. This program involved the transferal of week old Brush-tail joeys into the pouches of lactating Yellow-foot mothers. This doubled the Brush-tail’s reproductive capability however, in order to do this the Yellow-foot’s joey had to be euthanized (Schultz et al 2006). Whilst this practice has been discontinued the breeding at Tidbinbilla is still heavily managed with mating pairs systematically chosen to produce the most genetically viable offspring.  Since 2010 Tidbinbilla has reared 72 joeys with 26 being released into the wild to repopulate areas of Victoria (ACT Government, 2017).

Despite Tidbinbilla’s efforts, repopulation will not prevent extinction without addressing the key drivers; predation and habitat loss. Short et al (1992) found that almost all reintroductions of small macropods on mainland Australia ended in failure due to predation or poor management post reintroduction. Effective predator control is therefore essential, yet Claridge et al (2010) found that alone this did not result in a consistent increase in native populations. For example bandicoots at the Ben Boyd national park declined in response to fox baiting whilst possum numbers increased (Claridge et al 2010). These inconsistencies draw attention to the elephant in the room, habitat loss. The home range of the Brush-tails is declining and degrading due to anthropogenic influence (Australian Government, 2008). Reintroduction sites need to be carefully chosen to fall within the species original home range whilst allowing easy access to manage predators and pests (Short et al 1992). Finally the population needs to be large enough to avoid the risks associated with small populations when released (Kingsley et al 2012). Thankfully the team at Tidbinbilla are well aware of this and aim to have a population of 70 Brush-tails before attempting reintroduction.

The work being done at Tidbinbilla is tremendous and does not stop with Brush-tails. The wildlife officers work daily on a variety of species but with the same goal, conservation. I cannot thank the team enough for the opportunity to work beside them and see up close the strategies used to save these charismatic creatures.

Figure 2. Lily, a Yellow-foot rock-wallaby, and I bonding over nibbles (Fountain 2018)

Verity Carscadden.

References:

ACT Government (2017). ‘Endangered Species Breeding Programs’. Viewed 02/09/2018. <https://www.tidbinbilla.act.gov.au/learn/tidbinbilla/endangered-species-breeding-programs>

Australian Government (2008). ‘Brush-tail rock-wallaby – Petrogale penicillata’, fact sheet. Viewed 02/09/2018. <http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/brush-tailed-rock-wallaby-petrogale-penicillata >

Claridge. A, Cunningham. R, Catling. P & Reid. A (2010). ‘Trends in the activity levels of forest-dwelling vertebrate fauna against a background of intensive baiting for foxes’, Forest Ecology and Management, vol. 260, no. 5, pp. 822- 832.

Fountain. J (2018). ‘Verity + Lily’. JPG.

Fountain. J (2018). ‘Verity + Jed’. JPG.

Kingsley. L, Goldizen. A & Fisher. D (2012). ‘Establishment of an endangered species on a private nature refuge: what can we learn from reintroductions of the bridled nail-tail wallaby Onychogalea fraenata?’Oryx Cambridge, vol. 46, no. 2, pp. 240-248.

Schultz. D, Whitehead. P & Taggart. D (2006), ‘Review of Surrogacy Program for Endangered Victorian Brush-Tailed Rock Wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) with Special Reference to Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Considerations’, Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 33-39.

Short. J, Bradshaw. S, Giles. J, Prince. R & Wilson. G (1992). ‘Reintroduction of macropods (Marsupialia: Macropodoidea) in Australia – A review’, Biological Conservation, vol. 62, no. 3, pp. 189-204.

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A Koalaty Day at Tidbinbilla

On Tuesday, just as Spring had sprung, and with it a refreshing burst of sunshine, I was fortunate enough to spend the day at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, with wildlife officers who had some real koalafications (pardon the pun).

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, south of Canberra’s city centre, is home to a range of native Australian wildlife, who are well looked after by the Tidbinbilla team.

I got to experience the ins and outs of what wildlife officers at this reserve do, from feeding potoroos, snakes and Corroboree frogs, to cleaning the enclosures of Southern Brush-Tailed Wallabies and Eastern Bettongs. The highlight of my day, however, were the koalas.

Tidbinbilla is home to many cute koalas, including Malu, Jed and Yellow, who reside in the koala breeding enclosure. They are a part of the wildlife management and protection program here.

One of the koalas in the koala breeding enclosure

Just before lunchtime, I joined one of the wildlife officers in her rounds of the Koala enclosure, situated in the Eucalypt Forest. We started by collecting branches of fresh Eucalyptus trees, ensuring that they were of the highest quality (because as it turns out, koalas are quite fussy eaters). Upon arrival at the enclosure, we replaced the old branches with our new ones, spraying them with water to keep them fresh. After this, we cleaned the mess that the koalas had made, leaving their home in a spick-and-span condition.

We then joined with the rest of the team to stock-up on brush and branches for the animals for the rest of the week. We loaded these into the truck, then took them to storage for later use, knowing that the koalas would enjoy it.

Food stock we loaded onto the truck

Sadly, however, not all koalas are fortunate enough to have a constant supply of fresh, healthy Eucalyptus leaves. Despite being one of Australia’s most iconic animals, koalas are in danger. Whilst not being listed as endangered, they are listed as vulnerable in the ACT. This is due to extensive habitat loss.

Habitat loss is a key threat to koalas

Since European settlement around 80% of Australia’s Eucalyptus forest has been removed. This has placed increasing pressure upon koala populations. Their demographic structure has been altered due to displacement, as they need to find new home ranges, and this often leads to the death of a population.

Koalas are hence ending up in isolated, small, fragmented land patches, far away from other populations. The combination of these pressures also increase their risk of stress-induced disease, dog attacks and car accidents.

Another significant issue is tree dieback. Land degradation and habitat loss is causing the species of trees that koalas eat from to gradually die, as their forests become too patchy and isolated.

Tidbinbilla’s koala enclosure allows for a population of koalas to safely persist, free from the threats experienced by wild koalas. Koalas are bred here, with the babies being released into a larger 17 hectare forest after around 12 months. This mimics the wild environment whereby koalas leave their mothers to make short journeys to find their own home range, and learn to forage for themselves. I got to see one baby koala in the enclosure, who will be released into the forest in two weeks.

Jed snuggled in his enclosure

As I headed home from this day of work experience, watching the sun set and Tidbinbilla slowly disappear behind me, I realised that such conservation programs are vital in ensuring that species, like the koala, get a fighting chance of survival despite the odds against them.

By U6052880

Thank you to the Tidbinbilla Wildlife Officers Hannah, Rachael and Nicole for giving me this opportunity.

 

 

 

 

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