Gorilla conservation & Dian Fossey

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January 16th 2018 would have been Dian Fossey’s 86th birthday. Dian was known for her study of mountain gorillas in Rawanda. Along with Jane Goodall (chimpanzees) and Birute Galdikas (orangutans), Dian Fossey was recognised as one of the world’s foremost primatologists.

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Straya!

Many people from other countries have preconceptions about Australia. When travelling Australians often find themselves having to explain to others that no, there are not kangaroos hopping down the street in the middle of the city. They live in the countryside or occasionally in isolated pockets of bushland or National Park in quiet suburban areas. Then this happens:

Wallaby hops along Sydney Harbour Bridge, surprising early morning motorists” (from ABC News)

While I wasn’t on the bridge in the early hours of this morning to get a photo of the wayward wallaby, I have previous taken photos of the wallabies resident at Taronga Zoo.

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Photo taken at Taronga Zoo, Sydney on a Nikon Coolpix P610.

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Kangaroo

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With the summer heat combined with the long school holidays, many parents are probably feeling like they would happily join this kangaroo in taking a quiet nap under the shade of a tree around about now.

Photo taken at Taronga Zoo, Sydney on a Nikon Coolpix P610.

 

Olive Python

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The summer holidays are the off-season for many TV shows. This year that meant that a few of the stations put full seasons of the old Australian dramas onto their streaming services so as you could binge on classic Aussie drama. It seems as though every long-running Australian drama must have an episode featuring a life-and-death encounter with a venomous snake. Not surprisingly, they don’t seem to want to expose their actors to actual life threatening situations so they will often have a much more friendly non-venomous snake like this olive python play the part of the snake.

While not venomous, the olive python is one of Australia’s largest pythons, growing to almost 4 metres. They can be found across northern Australia in mountain ranges and savannah woodlands and favour rocky gorges and watercourses. They are mainly nocturnal and will shelter in rock crevices and hollows during the day. They are great swimmers and will hunt in water.

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Sydney’s waterways

With searing temperatures, we’re in the middle of a tough couple of days here in Sydney. The cooler coastal areas of the city had temperatures yesterday reaching 43°C/109°F, with the western suburbs soaring to 47°C/117°F. Some are lucky enough to have air-conditioning and backyard pools but others need to find other ways to beat the heat. Perhaps it’s a good time to head down to the waterside in the hopes of the breeze coming off the water being slightly cooler? Time once again to show some appreciation for our glorious rivers, harbour and beaches!

coastal taipan

Taipans can grow up to three metres in length, making them Australia’s largest venomous snake. The Coastal Taipan or Eastern Taipan lives in grasslands, coastal heaths, grassy beach dunes and cultivated areas such as cane fields in the far north of Australia and down the Queensland coast and Northern New South Wales.

Photo taken at Taronga Zoo, Sydney on a Nikon Coolpix P610

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Red Panda

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Red pandas are acrobatic animals that predominantly stay in trees. They are classed as endangered and are under threat from habitat loss, illegal trade and poaching. Almost 50 percent of the red panda’s habitat is in the Eastern Himalayas. They can be found in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal. Fewer than 10,000 Red Pandas are thought to remain in the wild.

Photo taken at Taronga Zoo, Sydney on a Nikon Coolpix P610.

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Tasmanian Devil

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The Tasmanian Devil is an Australian icon and is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial. With the very real possibility of Tasmanian Devils becoming extinct in the wild within the next 15 to 20 years, captive breeding programs are vital in preserving the species.

From the Taronga Zoo, Sydney website:

“Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)

Devil Facial Tumour Disease is a fatal cancer which can kill devils within six months of presenting with the disease. The cancer causes tumours to develop around the mouth, face and neck stopping infected devils from being able to feed. It can also present anywhere the animal is bitten by another devil with the cancer. Unlike most cancers, DFTD is one of only 3 truly contagious cancers and can be spread from devil to devil through biting during mating and at group feeding sessions. Since the disease was first reported, latest counts indicate a decline of 89% of the previous population.

DFTD is now confirmed across more than 70% of the devil’s overall distribution, and there is evidence for continued geographical spread of the disease. The currently affected region covers the majority of the formerly high-density eastern management unit, involving what was perhaps around 80% of the total population.

Taronga Zoo Sydney and Taronga Western Plains Zoo are involved in an Australia wide Insurance breeding program to try and save the devils from the very real threat of extinction caused by the Devil Facial Tumour Disease. (DFTD) Our aim is to breed enough healthy, disease free devils so that if they go extinct in the wild – a possibility in the next 15 to 20 years – we will be able to re-populate Tasmania and save the devils from extinction.

To establish the breeding program approximately 150 juvenile devils were collected in the wild, distributed to around 18 zoos across mainland Australia and in Tasmania with the aim of breeding up to 1500 devils. Currently, the insurance devil population stands at over 500 animals. 1500 is the ideal population number to be able to maintain the genetic diversity of the insurance devils at 96% or above wild levels.

Initially, this has been achieved in very intensive breeding situations. The next stage of what could be a 20 to 30 year program has already begun. Much larger free range enclosures have been created allowing more insurance devils to live together. The hope is that the devils will maintain their natural behaviours by living and socialising in a more natural environment.

In the mean time, research is on going in the field, in the laboratory and in Zoos to learn more about this disease, how it effects wild devil populations and maybe even find a cure.

To date, Taronga Zoo has experienced great success with the breeding program for this endangered species with 16 healthy joeys being born (as of June 2012). This is a huge boost to the regional zoo-based insurance population.

Zoos play a vital role in the conservation, ensuring there is a healthy and diverse insurance population in a zoo-based environment that can be released into the wild should an animal become extinct. The national effort to save the Tasmanian Devil involves controlled breeding with the hope of boosting Tasmanian Devil numbers in the wild when the risk of disease is arrested or diminishes.”

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Grey-headed flying fox

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Popular culture seems to cast bats as horror movie characters, forever to be associated with vampires, haunted houses and hysterical people screaming about bats getting caught in their hair. That is nothing at all like the reality of Australia’s flying foxes.

The grey-headed flying fox is the largest bat in Australia, with an average adult wingspan of around 1 metre. They spend their days roosting in colonies of anywhere between a couple of hundred and tens of thousands of individuals. Around dusk they leave the roost and travel up to 50km to feed on pollen, fruit and nectar.

Once considered abundant with many millions along the south-east coast of Australia, this species is now in serious decline. Current estimates are only about 200,000-300,000. Certainly, I remember when I was a child, looking up at dusk and seeing thousands of flying foxes in the sky as far as the eye could see. Now each evening I’m only likely to see a few hundred.

In urban environments some people consider them pests as they will eat the fruit from your prize fruit tree. Backyard fruit tree netting kills many bats. Dead bats hanging from overhead powerlines are also a common sight in urban environments frequented by flying foxes. Extreme temperature events are also responsible for mass die-offs. To prevent further loss of habitat, roost sites have been legally protected since 1986 in New South Wales and since 1994 in Queensland. Controversially in 2012, the Royal Botanic Garden in the heart of Sydney was given permission to disperse the colony of flying-foxes that had called the Garden home for many years.

In addition to all of these threats, flying-foxes have some bad press in recent years with the discovery of three viruses that are potentially fatal to humans, Australian bat lyssavirus, Hendra virus and Menangle virus. The chance of catching lyssavirus from bats is extremely small and all wildlife carers are vaccinated.

When you do get a chance to see the cute furry face of a flying-fox up close, it’s not hard to see where they get their name. Many years ago, there was a wildlife rescue group based in my primary school and the baby flying-foxes that had to be hand-reared prior to their release were always a huge hit with the kids.

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