By Sofie Semmler
Having a great appreciation for all things great and small, I decided to participate in more than one volunteer program, when instructed that voluntary work experience was part of the Biodiversity Conservation Course.
Ok well to be honest, I kind of cheated on this one since I am fortunate enough to belong to a family who lives in tropical Far North Queensland and are Wildlife Carers. So during the mid-semester break, I went home for about 10 days and of course caring duties set in. So to set the scene, my parents live on 180 acres of pristine untouched rainforest, an hour and a half inland from Cairns and 20km from the nearest town. Orphaned, injured or displaced animals are rescued from people who find them and the nearest wildlife carer is contacted. Once an animal is in the hands of my family, they are assessed and cared for accordingly.
While I was home, we received a baby (approximately 5 months old) Lumholtz tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus lumholtzi), who fell out off the mother high in the canopy, into the lake below. Luckily, there were a few young boys swimming there at the time and witnessed the ordeal, so they fished her out and tried to give it back to the mother, however she kept rejecting the baby and ended up leaving. Physically the little girl was not harmed or dehydrated but in need of 24hour care with scheduled bottle feeds, every 3 hours around the clock, of specialized formula. Because she (given the name Kimberly) is at that ‘adventurous’ age, we have to show her what her mother would have taught her. This means slowly introducing her to edible leaves and fruits which occur in the forest, along with daily exercises to build her upper muscles and teach her balance for tree climbing. This might sound simple enough, but can be quite challenging and is a loooooooong process. Eventually, every morning she will be taken out into the forest, wearing a radio collar, and left to climb freely. However using a radio tracker, she will be found in the evening and taken home until she feels comfortable spending the night ‘out’ where she will no longer need the collar.
Because Lumholtz tree kangaroos only occur in Australia in very restricted areas, the species in classified under the IUCN list as rare, but not yet of a concern. However, because of their very territorial behaviour and surrounding fragmented habitats, due to dairy farming and land clearing for urbanization, there is a concern of numbers declining. Once Kimberly reaches sexual maturity, we hope she will reproduce with our other resident male Geoffrey (also hand raised).
There is never a dull moment at our house with pademelons and wallabies, birds, possums and gliders, echidnas and platypus coming and going, reptile relocations from urbanised areas and bat rescues from barbed wire fences. Because the area has such a vast array of native fauna and flora, we have a program set up, together with neighbouring farms, which involves monitoring and eradicating feral cats, dogs and pigs. This is done by using live traps, baiting and sometimes shooting. Keeping these unwelcome pests at bay, is beneficial to both the cute and cuddly and the green and spiky. Not only do the natives look to be a tasty treat but can also degradate soil quality and structure. Though controlling them can be costly and time consuming, it is well worth the efforts when a healthy ecosystem results.
Woody Weeding Control for Mt Majura Reserve
So to finish the volunteering experience off, I decided to spend a day putting some time back into the Mount Majura Reserve. This 481 ha piece of nature, is literally in my back yard and I have spent many hours absorbing it’s beauty, so it only felt appropriate to pay a little back by doing a day of woody weed eradication. It was interesting for me to learn that the Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata) is a native species to Australia, however the Green Wattle (Acacia decurrens) was introduced and now prevents natural regeneration of native species and changes the natural balance of resources for native animals.
There were 5 other volunteers and we went around ‘The Fair’ with Mt Majura’s weed control officer, Noel, who showed and explained to us all the different vegetation types in the area. Once we came across a weed, we either cut it at the base and immediately sprayed the wound with the herbicide called roundup (glyphosate) or if the plant was in tree form, than made slanted axe cuts into the base of the trunk (around the entire circumference- also known as frilling) and again immediately sprayed. It is important that the wound is sprayed as quickly as possible before the plant produces a protective barrier.
Pink colouring was added to the herbicide just to make it easier to see where it has been sprayed. Overall I found it very interesting to learn about the plants that exist in the area and couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction, knowing you helped eradicated invasive species, so native ones can thrive. This won’t be the last time I spend my Sunday volunteering in the Reserve.