Where have all the native animals gone?

by Editor 20100902.

Detail from ‘The Blue Mountains Pioneers‘, Sydney Mail, Christmas Supplement, 1880,

Engraving in printed periodical  BN336  [State Library of New South Wales, http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/discover_collections/history_nation/exploration/blue_mountains/index.html]


Shot one pheasant [Superb Lyrebird], with tail complete; shot two others without tail.  It appears too early in the season for them.” (William Cox crossing the Mountains in 1814).  In 1824, Rene Lesson observed lyrebirds had become less common around Springwood Military Depot “since there had been persistent hunting.”  In 1836, Charles Darwin at Hassan’s Walls commented “a few years since, the country abounded with wild animals; but now the emu is banished a long distance; and the kangaroo is becoming scarce; to both the English Greyhound is utterly destructive.”  [J. & P. Smith 1990, ‘Fauna of the Blue Mountains]

Upon first setting foot in Australia’s undisturbed ecosystems, early colonial explorers diarised observations of native animals in abundant numbers.  Then the colonialists set about their survival-fired mission to exploit and convert the unfamiliar Australian bush into a familiar replica of the pastoral landscape they had migrated from. It was a different time and culture.

As was inflicted upon so much of colonial Australia, timber getting, ring barking and land clearing cumulatively displaced many native animal populations across the settled central Blue Mountains plateau following Cox’s transit route.  “Tiger Quolls, Eastern Quolls and Dingos were all apparently common in the Blue Mountains in the 1880s and were renowned for their raids on [farmers’] poultry.”  In those early pioneering days, survival in the inhospitable bush became a fundamental preoccupation; so justifying any means to achieve it, a self-proclaimed right.  Any concept of ‘native habitat’ would have been deemed, understandably, though not excusably, a fanciful hindrance.

Tiger Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus)

Trapped on Pulpit Hill, Blue Mountains in 1995,
subsequently handed over to National Parks and Wildlife Service.

.

 
 

Following the rail reaching Mount Vic in 1868, hunting was touted as a main tourist attraction.  “In 1888, the advertised local game was Scrub [Swamp] Wallabies, Rock Wallabies, Wombats, Tiger Cats [Quolls], Native Cats [Eastern Quolls], Wallaroos, Platypuses, Hares, Opossums, Lyrebirds, Satin birds [Satin Bowerbirds], Cockatoos, Parrots and others.”  The popular fur trade in the 1890s saw marsupials hunted for their skins.  Hundreds of thousands of Brush tailed Rock-wallabies were slaughtered for their skins. Pelts of platypus, sugar gliders and opossums were also prized. [Smith 1990]

The early 1900s became the ultimate watershed for Blue Mountains fauna.  Most hotels in the area maintained hunting lodges for the entertainment of their guests. In January 1902, the visiting English cricket team was treated to a shoot in Kanimbla Valley, which turned out to be the ‘last great wallaby drive.’  Shooting parties from Richmond and Windsor shot at anything and everything. [Smith 1990 citing Kinghorn 1924]

That upon the arrival of the colonists, native fauna across the Blue Mountains was observed to be in such prolific numbers; provides testament to the harmonious relationship Australian indigenous people had maintained with nature over tens over tens of thousands of years.  In hindsight, we can now see how colonist land management practices over just a hundred years, directly or indirectly had decimated native fauna populations and diversity.

A further hundred years, today Australia’s ‘lucky’ first world society has advanced well beyond its initial survival needs.  Yet inherited colonial practices die hard.  Our habitual exploitative land practices perpetuate many of the same serious threats to native fauna survival. Land clearing, in all its guises, continues to destroy habitat. Foxes and feral cats have long supplanted the quolls and wild dingos of the Blue Mountains region at the top of the food chain.  Road making across the Mountains either prevents wildlife roaming or otherwise contributes to the ‘road kill’ of many native mammals and marsupials each year.  The only ‘Wildlife Crossing’ dedicated by the RTA on the Great Western Highway is on the Boddington Hill climb where a solid concrete barrier greets wildlife crossing.

If we value the return of Blue Mountains fauna, we must get serious about preserving the integrity of its habitat, exterminating feral predators and facilitating effective wildlife corridors.  Without rich dense habitat and fauna diversity, our Blue Mountains swamps, forests and heath lands, while appearing healthy and natural from vantage points like Echo Point, will incrementally become sterile ornamental gardens.

As to the feral predators, what happened to the promises in 2004 of a strategy after the Blue Mountains Urban Fox Control Programme’s public survey?  Of the survey respondents 64% confirmed foxes as an environmental problem in the Blue Mountains mainly because of their negative impact on wildlife,  53% felt that not enough is being done or more work is needed to manage foxes in the Blue Mountains, and 82% said they would support one or more ways to control foxes.    The follow up implementation (“Active Control”) component of the strategy in May 2004 at page 4 recommended to:

  • “Protect communities of threatened species in the Management Area likely to be impacted upon by foxes.  If research indicates that populations of such species are present in the Management Area a fox control programme is to be implemented.   Actions include liaising with the Blue Mountains Threatened Species Team and using best practice procedures.
  • Supplying a list of fox control contractors to residents who want to actively control foxes on their properties and investigate the servicing of community requests for assistance through an active fox control project supported by Blue Mountains City Council.
  • Respond to community calls for fox control at high-density fox sites (eg. Blaxland tip site) with the trial of a fox control project.”

With the survey done, the fox problem confirmed and the implementation actions agreed in May 2004, the programme was then stymied. Political will faltered and local council, as the land manager responsible to effect and fund the above actions, found other priorities, downplayed the problem and rustled up a defeatist line: “the damage has been done and due to the pervasive extent of fox distribution it cannot be rectified… there is no way to prevent foxes from entering the area.”   So thus, far this costly survey and committee has achieved a zero return on investment.

So where have all the native animals gone?

Toward extinction.

- – -

by Editor, 14-Jul-06.

[This article as first published in The Colong Bulletin Issue 221, May 2007, p.7,  of The Colong Foundation for Wilderness Ltd, of which the Editor was an honorary director for two years from July 2005.

 

This article was previously submitted for publishing in the ‘Hut News’ of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society [BMCS].  However, it was rejected so as not to upset the ‘relevant authorities’.  Feedback from the BMCS Management Committee was:

We have to choose our battles carefully and be realistic about what we can achieve with our limited resources. Wherever possible, we prefer to approach the relevant authorities first to see if we can work with them, before going public with our concerns. Whilst we share your concern about threats to our native wildlife, we also appreciate that the control of feral animals is a complex issue. For this reason I have decided not to publish your article in Hut News. I have no objection to re-visiting the debate over fox control in the Hut News but any articles need to be factually correct and, if they are expressing an opinion as that of the BMCS, they will need to be approved by the Management Committee.”  [ ‘Hut News’ Editor, Blue Mountains Conservation Society, email 24-Jul-06.]


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