Roadkill – Help Stop the Carnage

Tasmanian devil joey - Photo: Barry Irons

This article appeared in the December issue of Tasmania Enjoy Magazine.  An online copy is available at http://www.tasmaniaenjoy.com.au/enquiry.php, pg 28-32

One animal every two minutes.  There is no way around it, Tasmania is the roadkill capital of the world.  However Greg Irons, owner of Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, is finding ways to reduce the terrible toll – and he needs your help.

“The one negative thing that we hear from visitors to Tasmania,” says Greg, an affable 27 year-old wildlife crusader, “is that we have so much roadkill.”

The numbers are staggering.  At least 300 000 animals perish every year under the wheels of motorists in the island state.  Greg says that when you include things like frogs and lizards the number may be in excess of 1 million.

“The really tricky thing about roadkill,” says Greg, “is that it is actually the sign of a healthy ecosystem.  If you have lots of animals, you have lots of roadkill.  In Tasmania we have the almost unique position of having over-populations of some of our native species.  This high density is the reason we see so many brushtailed possums, pademelons and Bennetts wallabies on our roads.”

So the sheer amount of dead animals is actually a good thing?

“Not at all,” Greg says.  “The opposite in fact.  These animals are not dying humane deaths and they leave behind untold numbers of orphans which are protected in the pouch when their mother gets knocked down.  It’s a serious animal welfare issue.”

“Possibly the worst effect is that we lose more than 3 000 endangered Tasmanian devils on our roads every year.”

Devils are scavengers, says Greg, and feed on other animals that have been knocked down.  Routinely falling victim to the cars themselves.  “Roadkill affects devils more than any other species in Tasmania,” he says.  “Roadkill is a devastating issue and at Bonorong we have been working very hard to create a community solution to this community problem.”

Greg has just won the Pride of Australia Environment Award for his innovative wildlife rescue program that he runs from his wildlife sanctuary near Hobart, Tasmania.  The “FOC Wildlife Program” is a 24hr rescue and assistance service which provides aid to animals in need.

Greg inspecting an injured wedge-tailed eagle. Eagles scavenge on the road and are often hit by motorists. Only a few hundred breeding pairs remain.

“When we started this program 18 months ago,” he says, “Tasmania was the only state in Australia without a wildlife rescue service.  Now we have close to 500 volunteer rescuers on the ground.  The numbers speak for themselves.  We are receiving over 2000 calls per year asking for our help.

“The rescuers are amazing.  The passion that they bring to the programme is incredible.”  Greg talks about Matt Barwick, a Hobart university student, who spent the last week trying for the “perfect week” of seven rescues in seven days.  “You have to hand it to these guys, they give up their time to help out animals in need.  Amazing.”  Although, says Greg, he suspects there may be an element of study procrastination for the student rescuer.  “We are planning on doing a recruitment drive on campus,” he jokes.  “We’ll be able to raise an army!”

So how can visitors to Tasmania be involved in reducing the roadkill problem?

“The best thing that anyone can do is to slow down,” Greg says.  “If we drove at 80km/hr instead of 100km/hr at night then research has shown that roadkill in Tasmania would literally halve.  That’s 150 000 animals.  Not to mention it is safer for all of us.

“Of course sometimes the animals are unavoidable.  They just jump straight in front of you.  Roadkill is a reality of driving.  The great thing is that now there is somewhere to call for help 24 hours a day.  Bonorong’s phone number is a hotline that is always manned.”  He adds that if you call him at night and don’t receive an immediate response, then keep on ringing.  “I sleep with the phone next to my head every night but sometimes I need a couple of goes to wake up.”

“We are here to provide advice and co-ordinate rescues, but people can start the process before they even call us.  The most important thing is your safety.  If you are getting out of your car and onto the road, make sure it is safe to do so.  A lot of our animals in Australia carry their young in a pouch, so it is really important to check and see if the animal was carrying a joey.  Often the mother cannot be saved but the little one can.”

If there is a joey in the pouch there are some easy steps to maximise its chances of recovery, says Greg.  “I taught these little tricks to over 3000 primary school kids last year, so there is no need for anyone to feel like they can’t make a difference.”

GREG IRONS’ TIPS TO HELP AN ORPHANED JOEY

DON’T FEED IT anything (especially cows milk, they are lactose intolerant)

Keep it WARM and DARK like a pouch.  The best thing to do is to put the joey in a beanie, or another item of clothing.  It doesn’t want to be any warmer than the temperature inside your shirt and that is actually a great place to put it.

Stress is the biggest killer of these animals so keep it QUIET, don’t put the car radio on or talk too loudly

CALL BONORONG (03 62 68 11 84) any time of the day or night

According to Greg, motorists can also make a big contribution to the survival of the Tasmanian devil.  “One of the best pieces of advice that we can ever give to people was suggested to me by a six-year-old boy.  I was on a tour and talking about how devils get hit on the roads a lot.  This little fella piped up and said, “why don’t people put rubber gloves in their glove-box so that they can take the animals off the road when they hit them?”  Genius.”

“This is what I love.  If everyone just does a little bit we can make a real difference to a big problem.”

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A Letter from Bonorong

This piece was written for BBC Wildlife Magazine as part of my PR work as manager of Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania.

It can be found at http://www.discoverwildlife.com/tasmania/letter-bonorong

Hot damn, it’s good to be a greenie in Tasmania right now. In the place where it all began, a new, smart and (if green is your colour) sexy brand of environmentalism is evolving. Instead of chaining themselves to trees, Tasmanians are now working out ways to buy the bulldozers.

Conservation v2.0 is a cool chowder of pragmatics and ideals. It sees economics as a tool rather than an enemy and it looks to the microscope rather than the megaphone.

I manage a wildlife sanctuary called Bonorong (www.bonorong.com.au). We are situated just north of Tasmania’s capital Hobart. In my work I have come into contact with many driven and creative people who share in this vision of a new conservationist creed. I want to share with you a little of what we do at Bonorong and the work of a couple of organisations that get our juices flowing.

Our mission is to run a tourism business which uses its profits to kick as much A for the environment as possible. In this way we use the traditional tourist dollar (Tasmania’s strongest industry) to encourage protection rather than exploitation. The term ‘social enterprise’ is relatively little known in Australia, however many of us are starting to use this term to describe our use of for-profit tools for non-profit jobs.

Bonorong works like this:

We offer guests a genuine and moving experience. Tasmanian wildlife is like no other, and you get to experience it in a setting which is nothing like a zoo. Get personal with the animals on hand-feeding night tours. Many of our residents are rehabilitating towards release, we want you to share in these stories. If everyone just played with a baby wombat now and then, I swear, world peace might be on the cards. It’s an inspiring place to hang around.

In return, you help us to protect Tasmania’s environment. Your entry fee covers the costs of running the sanctuary. Money after this, which would traditionally be profit, goes into our project fund. This fund operates a diverse range of large and small conservation projects.

For example, we:

  • Operate Tasmania’s only 24hr wildlife rescue service
  • Rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife and release them back to the wild
  • Fund and manage research on Tasmanian devils in the wild
  • Breed the now endangered devils in safe captive programs
  • Run free school education programs on saving wildlife
  • Train wildlife keepers, carers and rescuers

We definitely aren’t here to get rich, but we are having a bloody wonderful time. We describe it as doing well by doing good.
The great thing is that we are not alone. Tarkine Trails (www.tarkinetrails.com.au) is another Tasmanian tourism business committed with visionary aspirations. They take guests on life-changing bushwalks and retreats amid ancient temperate rainforest in Tasmania’s famous Tarkine region. This world-calibre forest is not currently protected and is threatened by active interest from forestry and mining companies. The mission of the Tarkine boys is to create an alternative economy in the area. If tourism becomes a viable and competitive industry, then there is every chance that this natural jewel will survive.

When they are not busy saving the southern hemisphere’s largest temperate rainforest, the lads also engage in some collaborative work with Bonorong. The latest is our devil population monitoring project. The Tarkine remains free of the terrible cancer which remains the devil’s greatest existential threat. With extensive fundraising for equipment, and some sneaky logistical planning we have organised for Tarkine Trails guides to become data collectors in one of the largest and most remote camera monitoring surveys ever undertaken in Tasmania. This will aid us in protecting the Tasmanian devil from the impending tragedy.

Along with tourism businesses taking steps towards environmental responsibility there are some fantastic organisations creatively building a better future. The absolute stand-out amongst these is the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (www.tasland.org.au). These guys buy and sell land. Sound simple? Mostly it is. When they buy land they place a protective covenant on it which stops anyone wrecking the place for a century. Then they sell it to someone who wants a little piece of environmental heritage for themselves. These guys started in 2001 with less money than it takes to fill a Holden ute. Now they have established 20 000 hectares of high-value protected land across Tasmania. How cool is that?

That’s the story in Tasmania at the moment. There are many more businesses and organisations adopting innovative, inspirational approaches to conservation. There is a genuine feeling that what is happening here is special and we are all working towards the same thing. As the world changes more and more rapidly, Tasmanians are evolving new ways of keeping things just as they always have been.

Karl Mathiesen
Manager, Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary

Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary
Protecting Tasmanian Wildlife
593 Briggs Road, Brighton, Tasmania 7030
Phone: (03) 6268 1184 | Fax: (03) 6268 1811
Email: info@bonorong.com.au | Website: www.bonorong.com.au