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Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
2 April 2003
The Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today announced a two-pronged approach to the threat of cane toads, with a grant to help protect the northern quolls of Kakadu National Park and the Northern Territory and new funding for research into biological control of the toads.
The poisonous cane toad, originally introduced to Queensland to kill pests in cane fields in the 1930s, reached the southern end of Kakadu National Park in early 2001. The joint Federal Government-indigenous park management had been monitoring their progress and was already working on a range of projects to monitor and minimise their impact on the park's unique ecosystem.
A grant of $28,058 to the Northern Land Council under the Natural Heritage Trust's Threatened Species Network Community Grants Program will help the Yolngu Aboriginal community participate in a project to move a number of quolls from the Territory mainland to toad-free Arnhem Land islands and monitor the quolls' success in establishing breeding colonies on the islands. As carnivorous marsupials, they are particularly at risk from eating the toads.
At the national level, Dr Kemp also announced today the Government will provide a further $489,000 in Natural Heritage Trust funding for CSIRO research into a long-term, scientific solution to cane toads. This is in addition to nearly $1 million provided under the Natural Heritage Trust since 2000.
"This additional funding will allow the CSIRO to continue its search for a gene that can prevent a cane toad from reaching adulthood and maturing to the reproductive stage," Dr Kemp said.
"This will take time, perhaps up to 10 years, but it is vital the work continues if we are to protect our native wildlife.
"In the meantime, the Federal Government continues to work to minimise the impacts of cane toads. In Kakadu, park staff, scientists, traditional owners and the local community are working on a range of monitoring and educational programs. Kakadu staff are also working with a range of experts across the Top End to pool and extend their knowledge and develop collaborative approaches to minimising cane toad impacts.
"Although this will not halt the spread of toads, the information gathered from these projects is important to managers of land lying in the path of this noxious pest."
The northern quoll is one of four species of quoll and is found in various habitats in the north of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. All quolls have declined in numbers since European settlement, mainly due to habitat loss and introduced predators such as foxes.
Dr Kemp said the community grants program, a joint initiative of the Howard Government's $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust and the World Wide Fund For Nature, was one mechanism to help save our unique plants and animals.
"Fauna surveys in Kakadu National Park last year suggest northern quolls disappear from an area very soon after cane toads invade, even in low numbers," he said. "Researchers estimate the quoll population, estimated to be more than 80,000 in the park, could have dropped by about a fifth already.
"The traditional owners of Kakadu National Park and other mainland areas are very concerned about the possible loss of quolls from their lands and wish to act before the northern quoll becomes endangered.
"Moving a representative sample of northern quolls to cane toad-free Arnhem Land islands is an important precautionary measure to safeguard the species while research continues into biological controls. So far, 50 quolls have been moved to three islands, where it is hoped they will thrive and breed."
Dr Kemp welcomed the involvement of traditional Aboriginal owners in the northern quoll project.
"The Federal Government is committed to supporting local communities in their efforts to develop local solutions to local environmental challenges," he said.
"The Threatened Species Network Community Grants represent a community-level response to natural resource management issues and are a valuable way of building the capacity of local communities and landholders. Community involvement is critical in the conservation of Australia's unique native species.
"This project will ensure the knowledge and experience of traditional owners can help deliver practical, on-ground outcomes. It also provides an important model for future collaboration."
The Northern Land Council is coordinating Aboriginal involvement in all stages of the project.
Catherine Job (Dr Kemp's office) 02 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400
Ruth Dewsbury (Environment Australia public affairs): 02 6274 1076 or 0418 624 847