Environment Australia, March 2000
No one will ever again see a Paradise Parrot flash its rainbow colours across the sky or see the Tasmanian tiger slink through the wet Tasmanian forest. They are extinct. They are two of the over 50 types, or species, of Australian animals and over 60 species of Australian plants that are extinct. It is very sad, but it is too late. Extinction is forever.
But we can still do something about threatened species - plants and animals that are in danger of becoming extinct. About 110 species of animals and over 520 species of native plants are classified as nationally endangered (they may become extinct in the near future). Over 180 species of animals and 650 species of plants are classified as nationally vulnerable (they are likely to become endangered if present trends continue).
The main reason that animals and plants become extinct or threatened is because of habitat loss and change. Their habitat is the place where they live. It contains all that they need to survive: space, light, water, food, shelter and a place to breed.
Humans have great power to change and destroy habitats and so reduce the chances of species surviving. Species and their habitats are affected when vegetation is cleared for uses such as agriculture, forestry, mines, suburbs and roads; when rivers are dammed to store water; or when swamps are drained for developments.
Native plants are eaten or trampled by introduced animals such as sheep, rabbits or goats, while introduced plants may compete with and sometimes replace native plants.
Introduced animals such as foxes and cats prey on many native animals, and this may threaten their survival. Humans have trapped and shot many native animals, for example Thylacines, whales and koalas.
Since 1788 half of Australia's forests have been cleared. About 70 per cent of the continent has been changed, especially in the agricultural areas of southeast and southwest Australia.
In addition, Australia's population is continuing to grow. Our land and resources, and hence habitats and the species depending on them, are under increasing pressure.
Conserve habitats in reserves
One of the most important ways to ensure that threatened plants and animals survive is to permanently protect their habitats in national parks, nature reserves or wilderness areas. National parks enable people to enjoy the beauty and diversity of species without harming them. About five percent of Australia's land and some areas of ocean (such as the Great Barrier Reef) are national parks and other nature conservation reserves.
1. Join a community national parks organisation. These groups exist in each state to support the establishment and maintenance of national parks, and arrange visits to them (ie. bushwalking, camping).
2. Visit a nearby national park or nature reserve. Some national parks have special guided tours and walks. Talk to the rangers to find out whether any threatened species live there and how they are being protected. Offer to help the rangers in their conservation, maintenance or educational work.
When you visit a national park, observe the wildlife codes: follow fire regulations; leave your pets at home; do not pick flowers or remove bush rocks; leave birds' eggs in their nests; and put your rubbish in a bin or better still, take it home.
Conserve habitats on farms
Despite the number of national parks and nature reserves, many native plants and animals are still inadequately protected. For example, only about one quarter of known threatened plants are protected in conservation reserves. Some threatened species are confined to small areas of bush and native grasslands in cities, farms and even along the sides of roads and railway lines.
Farms cover a large part of Australia and these can provide havens for all sorts of wildlife. In some areas, farms are vital to the conservation of threatened species. There are ways to manage farmland to protect native plants and animals, and minimise land degradation. These also contribute to more productive and sustainable agriculture.
For example, farmers can:
3. Use cleared areas more efficiently rather than clearing more land.
4. Provide areas exclusively for wildlife. Fence off areas from stock to allow native plants to grow back, or retain a swamp that might be drained.
5. Plant local native trees and shrubs. They help stop erosion (especially on slopes and along waterways) and attract native birds which eat farm pests. Shelter belts of trees reduce lambing losses, increase the weight of beef cattle and reduce wind damage to some crops. A woodlot also adds value to a property, providing fuel, shade and fence posts.
6. Use methods to control introduced plants and animals which do not endanger native animals.
7. Find alternatives to poisoning or shooting when controlling nuisance native animals, for example, plant decoy crops, set up electric fencing and change the timing of plantings.
8. Fence off an area at the edge of dams or creeks to allow native plants to grow. Make an island with earth or logs. These measures will provide habitat for all sorts of animals such as insects and frogs, and they will also attract native birds.
9. Leave dead trees standing. Animals use dead standing and fallen trees for nesting as well as sheltering from predators.
State and territory natural resource management agencies facilitate Landcare programs which offer help and advice for farmers who want to manage their property on a sustainable basis. Some parks and wildlife agencies have 'land for wildlife' schemes. A book called Wildlife in the Home Paddock (Angus & Robertson) by Roland Breckwoldt, a farmer from southern NSW, contains many ideas for farmers interested in wildlife conservation.
Conserve habitats on other lands
Housing developments in beautiful locations, like on the coast or in a rainforest, may be built on a filled swamp or cleared mangrove forest, or on heath or grassland where rare animals and plants used to live.
Though it may seem difficult, we need to use less land, or use the land that has already been alienated from nature more efficiently.
10. Minimise disturbance to natural vegetation on any land that you own (in the country or the city). Clear the weeds to help native plants survive, and plant other species native to the area. Native grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees are more likely to attract birds and butterflies, and perhaps some threatened species.
11. Look over your fence. There is often a strip of land that no-one looks after - next to a road, between houses, along a creek, behind a beach. This may be the home of a threatened bird, lizard or other animal or plant.
12. Be careful where you drive your car. Cars and motorbikes can do lots of damage, near cities or in the bush, breaking up ground cover, eroding tracks, pushing over shrubs and disturbing animals.
13. Find out what was on a piece of land before buying it. Be aware of threatened species that may be dependent on that land (such as the ground parrot and the Eastern Bristlebird which live along the east coast). Encourage your local council to protect the habitats of native species and ensure that real-estate developments do not destroy the habitat of threatened plants and animals.
14. Find out about the local wildlife before you visit a resort or go on holidays. Your library or a local conservation group could help. By selecting resorts which are sympathetic to the environment you may discourage environmentally harmful developments.
Changes in the frequency or intensity of fires can change the vegetation in an area. This can threaten plant species or animals that live there. Two birds from Western Australia, the Noisy Scrub-bird and the Western Bristlebird, have decreased in numbers because of changes caused by more frequent fires. Though some bushfires are caused by lightning, humans start most of them.
15. Extinguish campfires and cigarette butts when you visit bushland areas. Abide by fire bans. When bushwalking, carry a stove. Many small animals use dead fallen wood for shelter or nest sites.
Control exotic plants and animals
Non-native plants and animals are ones that come from outside your local area.
Many parks and reserves, beaches, headlands and inland waterways are infested with exotic weeds and native species are disappearing because of this. Blackberries infest temperate forests and streamside vegetation, bitou bush covers the dunes of east coast beaches, and mimosa is threatening tropical wetlands. A lot of exotic weeds come from people's gardens, often because seeds get taken into the bush by the wind or birds.
Local councils, conservation groups and other organisations have set up groups which help regenerate native bushland.
16. Join an existing group or form a new group to look after your local bushland. Removing rubbish and weeds over a number of months and replanting with native plants will allow the natural vegetation to grow back. This also encourages native animals to return.
Many of the introduced animals that people have brought to Australia, particularly foxes and cats, are very efficient killers. Feral cats hunt a variety of other small animals and climb trees or enter burrows to catch their prey. Sporting and aquarium fish have displaced native fish in rivers. Introduced animals such as rabbits eat the food of native animals and even live in their burrows.
17. Do not dump an unwanted pet. Give them to friends, sell them or take them to the RSPCA. Cats, dogs, fish and other animals can survive and breed in the wild. Your pet (and its offspring) may end up in pristine bush many kilometres from where you released it. If you have a native pet, contact your state or territory wildlife authority for advice on how to care for it.
18.Make sure your cat does not catch native birds or animals. Attach three small bells to its collar to warn animals of its approach, and keep the cat inside as much as possible to stop it from roaming, particularly at night. Have the cat desexed to avoid unwanted kittens.
Hunt pests not wildlife
19. Encourage people you know who like hunting to hunt pigs, goats, cats, foxes and rabbits rather than native animals. Remember that dogs and firearms are not allowed in national parks and nature reserves.
20. Throw back fish that are too small when you are fishing. Be careful not to lose your nets, lines, hooks and sinkers in the water. These entangle or choke many animals such as whales, fish, birds, platypus and water rats.
Shun deadly souvenirs
African elephants and rhinoceroses have become threatened because of the value of their tusks. In Australia smugglers try to take parrots and reptiles with them on aeroplanes and sell them for thousands of dollars overseas.
21. Do not buy anything that may have cost the life of a threatened animal, such as objects made of ivory or rhinoceros horn, or some medicines. Don't bring back animals, plants or seeds from overseas as they could become a pest in Australia's bushland.
22. Contact the Department of the Environment and Heritage if you know of anyone attempting to take or send native animals out of Australia without a permit.
Use fewer resources
Our use of many everyday things like food, water, textiles, paper and building materials, has a direct effect on habitats and species. Most of the things we use originally came from the places where plants and animals live, and much of our garbage flows back there. The more we use, the more land we consume that would otherwise provide native plant and animal habitats.
There are many ways to reduce our use of resources.
23. Reuse. Save plastic bags and containers, and use them again. Buy products that can be reused rather than disposable items.
25. Recycle paper, glass, metal, plastic, oil and organic wastes. If your council doesn't pickup up recycling materials, encourage them to start. Make a compost heap for your food and garden wastes.
26. Save water. Conserve water in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry. Fix dripping taps. Water your lawn and garden at night.
27. Grow some of your own vegetables and fruit.
Use less energy
The manufacture and use of power and the use of cars and other forms of transport consumes vast amounts of energy. This energy comes from land which could be the habitat of threatened species. Air pollution caused by fuel consumption is beginning to have an effect on the climate. Cool mountains may become warmer, deserts wetter and rainforests drier. These changes are likely to change or destroy the habitats of many species.
There are many ways to use less energy.
28. Insulate the house. Put on a jumper instead of turning on the heater.
29. Walk, ride a bicycle or catch public transport instead of driving a car. Buy a smaller car.
30. Use low-energy lights and electrical appliances. Switch off lights. Buy locally made goods which need less transport.
Be careful with chemicals
The effects of toxic chemicals on species and habitats sometimes take a long time to show up, or occur far away from the place where the chemicals are used. Tailings from a mine can flow downstream, killing fish and freshwater turtles. Fertilisers and pesticides used on farmlands can be washed into streams. Chemicals spilt near a city stormwater drain or runoff from roads can flow to the sea, polluting beaches and poisoning shellfish, birds and even people.
31. Minimise chemical use in your home and seek alternatives. Dispose of chemicals according to the instructions on the packet, or seek advice from your local council.
Learn more and teach others
32. Visit botanic gardens where you might be able to see a threatened plant. Next time you are in the bush in an area where the plant grows naturally, you might be able to recognise it yourself.
33. Visit a zoo and see if there are any threatened animals. You may be able to sponsor an animal and, through your sponsorship, contribute to research which will help land managers look after the animal in the wild.
34. Visit a museum to see examples of extinct animals such as a Thylacine or Paradise Parrot. Understanding how these animals became extinct helps us know what to do to help threatened animals survive.
35. Visit your local library and ask for any books or magazines on Australia's threatened plants or animals.
36. Discover the wildlife in your own backyard. Learning about these animals and plants will help you better understand the complex habitats that support threatened and other native species.
Surprisingly little is known about Australia's native plants and animals and how to help them survive. Scientists carry out research on the ecology of threatened species: their needs, threats to their survival such as predators, how they reproduce, how long they live and how many there are.
37. Report your sightings of threatened species or join a wildlife survey being conducted by research organisations. Schools have environmental education on the curriculum.
38. Encourage your children to join in local conservation activities. They will inherit the earth in whatever condition we leave it in.
Most Australian governments require the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) before a major development project goes ahead. This is designed to let the public know what is being planned.
39. Read these EIS's at environment centres and send submission giving your views about the development.
Join a group
There are already many community groups and government agencies working on the activities listed here. 37. Join one of these organisations and/or offer to do voluntary work. The World Wide Fund for Nature (GPO Box 528, Sydney NSW 2001) raises money, conducts research and works to protect threatened plants and animals in Australia and overseas. The Australian Conservation Foundation (340 Gore Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065) works for the protection of natural lands and the reduction of threats to wildlife.
Other groups such as the Society for Growing Australian Plants, field naturalist clubs, birdwatching clubs and Landcare groups actively promote nature conservation.
One of the most important things to do is to let people know how to save threatened species. Only with reliable information can people make the right decisions.
Make your voice heard
State and territory government conservation agencies are responsible for the management of national parks and the protection of wildlife. They are sometimes supported by public foundations.
41. Tell your family, friends and work mates about threatened species and how they can help them.
42. Start a group dedicated to protecting a threatened plant or animal in your area or perhaps to help care for a national park.
43. Write articles or letters about threatened species to newspapers.
44. Ring up talk-back radio programs to air your concerns, or arrange to talk on your community radio station.
What does the government do to help?
The Commonwealth's Endangered Species Program (ESP) was established in 1989, and in 1992 the Endangered Species Protection Act was enacted. The ESP is administered by the Department of the Environment and Heritage, and funds recovery projects aimed at studying and conserving threatened species and their habitats, including plants, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, fish, mammals and birds. The ESP also aims to increase public awareness and understanding of the problems facing threatened species.
Every state and territory has a conservation agency involved in the protection of habitats and management of species. They have either prepared, or are proposing legislation to protect threatened species. Links to the internet site of your state organisation can be found on the home page of this site.
Many organisations funded by state and federal governments such as botanic gardens, zoos and universities are caring for species and carrying out research. Some are trying to breed threatened species so that they can be reintroduced to the wild once threats have been removed, for example, when their predators are eliminated or their habitat has regenerated.
However, governments need the support of the public to continue these activities.
45. Urge your political representatives to support programs and strategies for the protection of threatened species and their habitats.
There is hope for the future. Some threats to species have been dealt with. For example, the koala is no longer threatened by the fur trade. Egrets are no longer killed for their plumes. At the brink of extinction, the Lord Howe Island Woodhen was bred in captivity and later released back into its forest habitat.
Best of all, there is now considerable community interest in the fate of threatened plants and animals which ensures that politicians and land managers are kept aware of the need to conserve wildlife. Consumers are also learning to reduce their use of products which have an impact on animals and plants and the land on which they depend.
There are many community groups working on conservation activities. Join one of these groups and assist with conservation activities.
The future of threatened species depends on us and the choices that we make today.
For general information about threatened species and threatened ecological communities contact the Department of the Environment and Heritage's Community Information Unit on 1800 803 772 or email email@example.com