Located just a 40-minute drive from Canberra’s city center, the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve (TNR) operates as an ecotourism facility striving for sustainable land management and environmental operations, focusing on conserving natural and cultural values. TNR operates through three primary divisions; the Ranger Team, Wildlife Team and Visitor Team. Throughout my volunteer experience, I was fortunate enough to accompany both the Rangers and Wildlife Officers, gaining insight into what a day in their working lives entails.
Figure 1. Tidbinbilla Map Outlining all sites visited including: Depot, Sanctuary, Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby, Woodland and Eucalypt forest zones (taken from ACT Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve).
The Ranger Team
Focusing on environmental and conservation management issues (Naughton-Treves et al, 2005), the Ranger experience commenced with a Ranger Guided Activity (RGAs) an educational tool for primary school participants (ACT Government, 2017). Tidbinbilla, derived from the Ngunnawal word ‘Jedbinbilla’, holds indigenous and heritage significance. A presentation of specific indigenous content was led by Ranger Travis, through his demonstration of indigenous artifacts documenting Tidbinbilla’s indigenous history, promoting indigenous culture and heritage conservation (ACT Government, 2017). Sharing traditional knowledge about local fauna and flora like the Bracken Fern sap, used to neutralizes insect bites, the children’s concentration began to lag and havoc was unleashed upon the various boomerang and spear artifacts.
Figure 2. Indigenous artifact RGA led by Ranger Travis to First Grade Condor Primary Students.
The RGA Platypus pursuits activity led by Ranger Tom, involved the primary school participants walking around the Tidbinbilla’s wetlands in search of platypus. Although the platypus sightings were scarce on this bitterly cold morning, mistaken for debris induced pond ripples, the important take home message for the children was the significance of TNR promoting biodiversity conservation.
The Wildlife Team
Focusing on captive wildlife management, the Wildlife Officers run the Endangered Species Breeding Program, targeting conservation of the Pseudophryne pengilleyi (Northern Corroboree Frog), the Petrogale penicillata (Southern Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby) and the Bettongia gaimardi (Eastern Bettong) (ACT Government, 2017).
Tagging along with Wildlife Officer Hannah, I spent the morning cleaning and preparing tanks for the 1047 individuals undergoing metamorphosis from the 2017 insurance population bank. The Northern Corroboree Frog (NCF) is a Critically Endangered Native species with current wild population estimates of less than 100 individuals within the ACT (ACT Government, 2017). The TNR NCF breeding program is the largest active captive breeding program, aiming to bolster wild population levels through the annual release of approximately half of their adult insurance population. The breeding program consists of first and second-generative captive bred frogs, established in 2003 through the capture of 400 wild individuals (ACT Government, 2017). The significance of this starter population is that the current insurance population reflects wild species genetic diversity, preventing genetic bottlenecking and ensuring sufficient genetic diversity within future captive populations, enabling re-introduction to be a viable conservation strategy.
The identified biodiversity threats for the NCF is the Chytris fungus pathogen, driving population vulnerability by reducing viable alpine sphagnum bog environments (Corroborree Frog.Org, 2016). The program’s success is attributed to the captive populations protection from predators, biodiversity threats and regulating food supply. The adult populations are fed a non-variable diet of crickets bi-weekly, ensuring that the NCF individuals receive adequate nutritional intake enabling populations persistence. The program has been successful in prolonging the NCF estimated life span of 9 years within wild population, evident by the current breeding partners age of 14 years (ACT Government, 2017).
Monitoring the population survival upon release is essential in indicating whether the breeding program has been successful in bolstering wild population levels. The Wildlife Team are currently in the process of auditing population numbers, however, auditing the population for survival is difficult as it involves Conservation Research members recording the number of male breeding calls produced over the summer breeding season, often resulting in an inaccurate record of wild population levels.
Figure 3. Two adult Pseudophryne pengilleyi (Northern Corroboree Frog) members from the 2016 TNR breeding program insurance population.
After spending the morning surrounded by over 1000 amphibians, it was about time to delve into all things marsupial, embarking on the Southern Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby and Eastern Bettong Breeding Program adventures.
The Petrogale penicillata is recognised as an endangered species within NSW, protected under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (CoA, 2017). TNR has approximately 70% of the Australian captive breeding population and their management program operates in partnership with several local agencies, targeting the release of their insurance population into VIC as part of the national recovery breeding program (ACT Government, 2017). The identified biodiversity threats for these acrobatic individuals is habitat loss, introduced exotic flora, changed fire regimes, urban development, introduced feral predators, increased food competition and past hunting activities.
The Bettongia gaimardi has received prioritised resource allocation by the Australian government to support population recovery due to its important species ecosystem services of native fungi spore distribution (CoA, 2017). The focus of the TNR breeding program is to retain genetic diversity through an insurance population, through partnerships with the ANU and CSIRO for reintroduction of populations within large feral-free enclosures at locations including Mulligan’s Flat Woodland Sanctuary. The identified biodiversity threats for the Eastern Bettong include land clearing, agriculture developments, overgrazing, predation from introduced species and competition against introduced species (ACT Government, 2017).
The TNR is able to promote population persistence within both species by conserving prime vegetation corridors, providing exotic flora and fauna management and understanding controlled burning techniques which reduce the intensity of bush fires and subsequent habitat loss (ACT Government, 2017).
Figure 4. Some of the Petrogale penicillata eucalypt forest enclosure population during feeding rounds.
Assisting the Wildlife team with the maintenance of selective eucalypt and casuarina forest enclosures, for these vulnerable marsupial populations and running through the daily routine checklist of food preparation, feeding, enclosure cleaning, water level checks and nesting installations, I finally understand just why these park and service roles are highly competitive to secure (ACT Government, 2017).
After totaling a day of lifting 16 hay bales, walking around for 3hrs in sub-zero temperatures and scrubbing over 30 fungi-covered wood fragments, I can certainly say that this job is not for the weak or faint-hearted. Although challenging, these roles are extremely rewarding and directly result in cultural and biodiversity conservation. This opportunity has been extremely gratifying and I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the conservation operations and educational endeavors pursued by the TNR team surrounding the anthropogenic-environmental interface (Bickford et al, 2012).
I would like to thank the TNR team, in particular Officers Kristy, Tom, Travis and Hannah, for allowing me to tag along for this experience, an opportunity which I hope to participate again in the near future.
Written by: u5808910
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ACT Government, 2017. Aboriginal Connections to Tidbinbilla. https://www.tidbinbilla.act.gov.au/learn/tidbinbilla/aboriginal-connections-to-tidbinbilla. Viewed on the 06 September 2017.
ACT Government, 2017. Endangered Species Breeding Programs. https://www.tidbinbilla.act.gov.au/learn/tidbinbilla/endangered-species-breeding-programs. Viewed on the 06 September 2017.
ACT Government, 2017. Parks and Conservation. http://www.environment.act.gov.au/ACT-parks-conservation. Viewed on the 06 September 2017.
ACT Government, 2017. Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. 2017 https://www.tidbinbilla.act.gov.au/learn/tidbinbilla. Viewed on the 06 September 2017.
Bickford, D., Posa, M.R.C., Qie, L., Campos-Arceiz, A. and Kudavidanage, E.P., 2012. Science communication for biodiversity conservation. Biological Conservation, 151(1), pp.74-76.
Commonwealth of Australia, 2017. Biodiversity: Threatened species and ecological communities publications; Brush-tailed rock-wallaby- Petrogale penicillata. http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/brush-tailed-rock-wallaby-petrogale-penicillata. Viewed on the 06 September 2017.
Commonwealth of Australia, 2017. Species Profile and Threats Database; Bettongia gaimardi. http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicspecies.pl?taxon_id=211. Viewed on the 06 September 2017.
Corroborree Frog.Org, 2016. Biology: Corroboree Frog Recovery Program. http://www.corroboreefrog.org.au/biology/fast-facts/. Viewed on the 06 September 2017.
Naughton-Treves, L., Holland, M.B. and Brandon, K., 2005. The role of protected areas in conserving biodiversity and sustaining local livelihoods. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 30(1), pp.219-252.