Australia Funds Protection on National Threatened Species Day

SYDNEY, Australia, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - With over 1,400 of Australia's species now at risk of extinction, National Threatened Species Day is held on the 7th of September every year to highlight the plight of Australia's threatened creatures and ecosystems.

September 7 is the date that the last Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in 1936.

tiger

Last Tasmanian tiger at the zoo in Hobart in 1933. Large marsupials native to Tasmania, tigers were common in 1900 but were hunted extensively because they threatened sheep. (Photo courtesy Tasmanian Dept. of Education)
The enormous island continent which evolved in isolation from other parts of the world, is inhabited by some of the most unique creatures on Earth. But in the 200 years since European occupation, Australia has lost around 87 plant species and 53 animal species to extinction.

Some of Australia's more unusual threatened species, from living rocks to Pink-tailed worm lizards, are to receive added protection this year with federal government funding of A$490,000 (US$274,000).

Australian Environment Minister Robert Hill, speaking at this year's National Threatened Species Day launch in Sydney, said the funding for the Threatened Species Network (TSN) Community Grants Program will help conserve wildlife.

"The TSN community grants are vital in the race to save our threatened species, as they not only assist in saving our unique flora and fauna but they reward community groups with the recognition they deserve," Senator Hill said.

One grant this year will train volunteers to restore the habitat of an endangered community of thrombolites at Lake Richmond in Western Australia, one of the few places in the world where these so-called living rocks grow.

living rocks

Thrombolites, called living rocks, in Lake Richmond. (Photo courtesy Dept. of Conservation and Land Management)
Rock like structures known as thrombolites are built by micro-organisms too small for the human eye to see. Some are living communities of diverse inhabitants with population densities of 3,000 per square metre.

Another project will prevent livestock from entering a remnant grassland habitat of the endangered Striped legless lizard.

With another grant indigenous communities will protect a population of the Mulgara, a small carnivorous marsupial found near Uluru.

"We hope that by continuing to provide funding we will encourage more community groups to participate in conservation activities at the regional level," Senator Hill said. "Two of the projects this round are particularly encouraging as they involve partnerships between land developers and urban communities.

The TSN Community Grants Program is a joint initiative of the federal government's A$1.5 billion Natural Heritage Trust and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Dr. David Butcher, CEO of WWF Australia said, "Australia has one of the most diverse ranges of species in the world. Yet many of our unique species are listed as vulnerable and some 1,400 are currently at risk of extinction.

"Projects in 2000-2001 will survey over one million hectares of habitat whilst focusing on habitat improvement via fencing, re-vegetation, weed control, predator control and closing of artificial watering points," Dr. Butcher said.

bird

Regent honeyeater (Photo courtesy Softbills.com)
Other threatened species and communities funded under the program are the Ptunarra brown butterfly, the Cumberland Plains Woodlands, and many bird species, including the Superb parrot, Swift parrot, and the Regent honeyeater.

The grants program is further supported by the federal government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

"Our new Act recognises the plight of threatened species and communities as a matter of national, environmental significance, and reaffirms the commitment of this government to the conservation of Australia's threatened species and communities," Senator Hill said.

As their contribution to the endangered species of Australia, miners and scientists have combined to bring back some of the world's rarest mammals to mainland Australia.

Burrowing bettongs and Western barred bandicoots, along with the Greater stick nest rat, have been extinct on the Australian mainland for over 50 years.

A team led by scientists Jeff Short and Jacqui Richards from the government's Commonwealth Scientific Industrial and Research Organisation (CSIRO) has successfully introduced the animals to a carefully prepared refuge area on Heirisson Prong, at Useless Loop, a mining community in the Shark Bay area in Western Australia.

bandicoot

Western barred bandicoot (Photo courtesy CSIRO)
"Reintroductions to the mainland have failed in the past due to a combination of predation and unsuitable habitat. On Heirisson Prong we provide them with a safe new home where there are no predators and then try to find ways to encourage the animals not to disperse too widely," says Dr. Short.

Rescued from extinction, the animals are now successfully breeding on the mainland, with their numbers well into the hundreds.

Heirisson Prong is a story of cooperation between CSIRO, the Useless Loop Community, the Shark Bay Salt Joint Venture and volunteers from the U.S. based environmental group Earthwatch. They have created a predator proof beachhead in which endangered marsupials can gain a toehold on survival.

The triple layered defence consists of a high security captive breeding area, a 12 square kilometre exclusion zone from which all predators have been removed, and a 200 square kilometre buffer zone where cats and foxes are regularly controlled by trapping and baiting.

Dr. Short said today, "The return of these animals is turning the tide of extinctions. We have lost eighteen Australian native mammals in the last 200 years, and this project is redressing the balance."