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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With the temperatures in coastal areas around much of Australia hovering between 35°-40°C (95°-104°F) for much of the summer so far, there are many days when a sizeable portion of the population are stretched out, staring at the water, thinking “it would be cooler if I went in but it’s just too hot to move!”

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Australian Sea-lions are found in and around the southern and south-western waters of Australia, although some have been recorded as far north as the mid-north coast of New South Wales. They live in ocean & sandy beaches in isolated bays and sheltered areas. They have thick fur which allows them to live in extremely cold water. Sea-lions come ashore to breed and rest on both sandy beaches and the rocky coastlines.

The Australia Sea-lion is rarest Sea-lion in the world. In 2008 the Australian Sea-lion was listed as an endangered species due to the fact that its already small global population continues to decline.

The Australian Sea-lion was heavily hunted for its fur, depleting its population significantly. While hunting is now illegal, Australian Sea-lions are still under threat as victims to fisheries bycatch, becoming entangled in gillnets and fish traps.

Unsustainable fisheries and disturbance of breeding sites also pose a big threat for the Australian Sea-lion.

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First World Problems

After pointing out a platypus to a tourist at the local zoo the other day, I was asked “how did you know that was a platypus?” My response was “40+ years of visiting the zoo”.

In that time much has changed. The concrete pits and metal bars have gone and the enclosures have a much more natural look. For a while the enclosures swung so far away from the concrete and metal that it was hard to spot the animals at all amongst all of the vegetation. Now with lots of glass and contoured landscaping it seems that more of a balance between natural habitat, viewing the animals and providing them with enrichment activities is the accepted best practice.

These new style enclosures offer both pros and cons for taking photos of the animals. It’s possible to get great photos of the animals surrounded by vegetation for that “this could be in the wild” look. However, there’s also reflections on the glass to deal with and the problem of getting too close. When the animal is so close, if you step back to get the whole animal in the shot you also end up with the window frames and reflections of all of the zoo visitors on the glass. So working with the first world problem of being too close to the tiger I had to come up with a way to get the shot anyway.

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Red-bellied black snakes

Normally you see the red-bellied black snakes either slithering along the ground through the undergrowth or basking in the sun. This time was a bit different… it’s spring mating season at the zoo. These two were putting on an impressive display.

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According to the Australian Museum “Males travel widely in search of receptive females and will engage in combat with any rival male that they encounter. Combat involves the two combatants spreading their necks and rearing up their forebodies, and hooking their necks around one another with a twisting motion that leads to the bodies becoming intertwined. After the initial engagement, they lie outstretched along the ground, but in some cases the forebodies remain raised. The object of the combat seems to be to push and hold the opponent down, and during the struggle the snakes may hiss and even bite each other (the biting is not serious as the snakes are largely immune to their species’ venom). In the wild, the bouts may last from only a few minutes for up to half and hour, and in captivity, the same two snakes may engage in intermittent bouts over several days. During these bouts the snakes can become so pre-occupied that they are totally oblivious to their surroundings. Eventually a “winner” is determined and the snakes part ways, with the defeated male then leaving the area.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lens hood to block the reflections on the glass and my camera was still set up for taking photos inside the dark of the reptile house so these photos are not technically great quality but I think that the subject matter makes up for the reflection and focus issues.

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Cuddle Party!

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Recreating a scene from “Finding Dory” the otters are having a cuddle party!

The Asian Small-clawed Otter is the smallest of the 13 Otter species, less than a meter long, nose to tail tip and weighing up to 5kg. In parts of India, China and South-east Asia, otters are traditionally trained to help fishermen, catching fish and returning them to the boat in exchange for a reward.

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Photo taken at Taronga Zoo, Sydney

Nikon Coolpix P610

Kembali

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The Sumatran Tiger is the smallest of the surviving subspecies of tiger and are classified as critically endangered, with numbers as low as 400. These Tigers are predominately solitary animals that live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in lowland forests that extend through to the mountain forests.

Kembali was born at Taronga Zoo, Sydney in 2011.

Photo taken at Taronga Zoo with a Nikon Coolpix P610

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Tranquility

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I don’t often take photos of the Sydney Opera House. There are so many photos of it out there that it can be hard to take one that is not the same as thousands of others. However, I do love the peace and quiet of the Opera House in the early mornings when you can snap that photo without all of the other people that are also taking photos in the shot.

Golden Pheasant

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My last post was all about grey, so let’s go the other way and add a splash of colour! The golden pheasant or Chinese pheasant is native to the mountain forests of western China.

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