PC: Aussie Ark

ZAA Wildlife Bushfire Recovery Project Update

Whilst all of us at ZAA have been responding to support members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some of our team have been busy working hard in the background on our wildlife bushfire recovery work.

A panel of members from the ZAA Wildlife Conservation Committee (WCC) assessed the applications for funding from the ZAA Bushfire Appeal, which raised over $1 million dollars earlier this year. Their recommendations for the successful projects was approved by the ZAA Finance Audit & Risk Committee and the applicants have been notified.

We’re very excited to announce the following areas of work across all three phases of the ZAA response which will support native Australian species through rescue, assessment and recovery actions.

Rescue and rehabilitation in the Barrington region

The Barrington region north of Sydney in NSW was heavily impacted by drought and bushfire in 2019/20. ZAA-accredited organisation, Aussie Ark, were able to respond and save a number of wildlife in the area including brush-tail rock-wallabies, platypus and multiple species of turtle. In regular communication with government, their team spent time in the field relocating animals to safer locations and monitoring the condition of those that required further care daily.

Aussie Ark began their rescue and rehab work in the Barrington in December and continued for several months given some of the long-term affects of drought and bushfire on wildlife leaving them vulnerable to starvation, predation and car strike. The rescue efforts aimed to:

•    To provide veterinary care and ongoing health monitoring for platypus populations in the Upper Hunter and Manning regions.
•    To provide care, husbandry and a variety of food to provide nutritional needs to the platypus until their release back to their wild environment.
•    To release rescued and rehabilitation platypus back to the wild around September 2020
•    To continue weekly monitoring and feeding of wild brush-tailed rock-wallaby populations through to September 2020.
•    To provide daily care, husbandry and a variety of food to provide nutritional needs to the turtles during their care.
•    To establish an insurance breeding program with 20 Hunter River turtles and release some animals back to the wild.

Ex situ management for bushfire affected species

Earlier in the year, ZAA hosted an extensive workshop of experts to assess and plan for the role captive breeding and management could play in bushfire recovery. This process allowed ZAA to review what facilities and animal care expertise was available as well as which affected species may require captive breeding support.

Priorities were then determined based on several aspects including, but not limited to, species vulnerability, likelihood of success, husbandry knowledge, historical breeding success and geographic spread. The workshop and resulting project provided a roadmap for how the zoo sector can play its role in the government’s wider wildlife drought and bushfire recovery actions.

Threatened species assessment and coordination

A report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund estimates that almost 3 billion native animals (vertebrates) were killed or otherwise affected by the 2019/20 bushfires. With an overall estimate like this, it’s clear that re-assessing the conservation status (i.e vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered etc.) of Australian native species will be critical to receiving formal conservation support and EPBC Act protection for affected species.

We must first understand the damage done to develop a roadmap for where recovery efforts should be focused.

The ZAA Threatened Species Assessment and Coordination project will employ and train three experts as ZAA Threatened Species Assessors (ZAA TSAs) to assist Federal Government and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee with this assessment and communicate with government to identify conservation needs, help plan effective and coordinated measures, and mobilise action.

ZAA TSAs would be trained to the Federal Standard, using the Common Assessment Method, and would also undergo training to ensure that assessments meet the requirements for IUCN Red Listing, as well as any state/territory requirements.

PC: Aussie Ark

PC: Aussie Ark

PC: Aussie Ark

New Holland mouse breeding program

The New Holland Mouse is a native species that once lived across Australia but over years their populations have shrank into smaller, fragmented groups, leaving them vulnerable.

First the drought and then the devastating bushfires then swept across many of the habitat where the fragmented populations of the New Holland Mouse remained, putting even more pressure on their survival.

The Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park team has a track record with success breeding and releasing the New Holland Mouse. The ZAA Drought and Bushfire Appeal will fund the Sanctuary to establish a larger, long-term breed-for-release program for the New Holland Mouse including upgraded facilities with predator-proof fencing, expert keeper care and a population viability analysis.

Strategic biobanking for threatened frogs

51 million frogs are estimated to have been killed or affected by the 2019/20 bushfires according to the WWF report.

This project aims to help four of Australia’s native threatened frog species: Booroolong Frog, Northern Corroboree Frog, Southern Corroboree Frog and the Spotted Tree Frog. Each of these already vulnerable species were impacted by the bushfires with some almost wiped out.

Fortunately, these species have breeding programs established by Taronga Conservation Society and Zoos Victoria.

To help any species survive, it’s important that the population includes many individuals who are unrelated meaning there is a lot of genetic diversity. Genetic diversity plays a major role in a species adapting and evolving to survive environmental changes. If many individuals in a population are similar, they can all be affected by a threat in the same way and a lot of the population can be lost quickly. However, if many individuals have genetic differences, there is more chance that some will be resistant to a threat in some way and these might continue to breed resilient offspring.

By using established sperm collection and cryopreservation techniques to capture and store the genetics within these four frog breeding programs, this project aims to prevent loss of genetic diversity and perhaps even increase it via selective breeding to help save these species from extinction. Ultimately, the project will help to repopulate these four species in the wild

Western ground parrot breeding facilities

The Western ground parrot is a critically endangered species in WA. Crucial habitat for the species was impacted in a bushfire in December that swept through Cape Arid National Park and nearby Nuytsland Nature Reserve.

To help protect this species in the wake of the bushfires, a conservation breeding program is considered a priority. Perth Zoo holds a population of Western ground parrots suitable for breeding and funds from the ZAA Drought and Bushfire Appeal will help them to build a new, specially designed habitat to encourage the birds to breed for the 2020 and 2021 breeding season.

With the parrot’s numbers already desperately low before the bushfires, a breeding program (if successful) could play a major role in protecting the species from extinction.

PC: Taronga Zoo

PC: Perth Zoo