Does it matter if we disturb wildlife?

walking near wild kangaroos without disturbing themIn our ecotours we try to always leave animals doing whatever it was they were doing when we first see them – this gives some measure that we are not disturbing them in any important way.  If the whiptail wallabies are still grazing on the same patch of grass, the koala hasn’t climbed higher in the tree and the honeyeaters are still sipping the same flowers, we can be fairly confident that our presence hasn’t made too much of a difference to them.

I’ve reviewed quite a lot of literature on minimal-impact wildlife viewing, and given a number of presentations on the same, making the point that while occasional disturbance is probably unimportant, repeated disturbances have the potential to deter animals from using favoured feeding areas, or from successful reproduction.

One thing that has surprised me is the number of people who ask why does it matter?  And this comes not only from tourists and tour operators, but also from ecologists who say there is no good evidence that disturbing animals in their feeding grounds or breeding areas does any lasting damage, apart from isolated cases in especially fragile habitats or restricted breeding grounds, and that increased disturbance will probably just hasten habituation to humans.

I would still prefer to err on the side of caution, and make as little impact as possible while enjoying watching wild creatures.I feel this will benefit the animals themselves and the next human visitors who wish to see them. It also has the potential to educate visitors to respect the animals and use minimal-impact techniques elsewhere.

Also, some animals habituate far more readily than others.  If some don’t seem bothered by our presence, there may be others nearby that are.

I would be interested in hearing the views of others – please leave a comment

Another bat stuck in a cocos palm

We had another call today to rescue a bat caught in a cocos palm.  These palms are really bad news for wildlife – it would be good to see them all replaced with bangalow or other native wildlife-friendly palms.

Once again the bat freed himself while we attempted to reach him, but this time with his leg bleeding, so we can only hope the wound was not too serious.

To the rescue of a fruitbat -almost

black flying foxDarren and I had a call from Bat Conservation and Rescue (of which we are members) last week to say we were the closest rescuer available for a fruitbat stuck in a cocos palm near Boonah, and being constantly attacked by noisy miners and other birds.

I asked how tall the tree was and it sounded a bit out of reach, so I first rang RSPCA to see if they had equipment to get up there, and they promised to check and get back to me if they had something available that could be taken to Mount Alford (near Boonah) in a reasonable time.

I then called Council and was told that yes they did have suitable equipment but could not let any of their staff handle a bat because they hadn’t been vaccinated for rabies (fruitbats occasionally carry lyssa virus, which is related to rabies, and there have been two known deaths of people bitten while handling them).  I said my son and I have both been vaccinated but I was told they could not – for public liability reasons – allow us to climb their ladders or ride in a crane etc.

So, Darren and I headed over with our inadequate ladder, plus protective sleeves for our arms,  a box to put the bat in (lined with a comfy bit of fabric), and some apple and honey, as we were told he had been in the tree for several days with nothing to eat.

We arrived, and saw the bat on the frond – no longer entangled in the clump of green fruit.  He showed no sign of injury, and when Darren mounted the ladder he energetically climbed higher. He was a black flying fox, not full size, so we wondered if perhaps he was just confused and famished. We couldn’t think of any reasonably safe way of reaching him, so decided to leave him with some food overnight and hope that with restored strength he might fly off with his comrades if they visited the property that night. Through our  binoculars, we examined him for any sign of injury to the wing.

When Darren mounted the ladder again, the young bat suddenly discovered he could still fly and made an impressive wide arc to a leopard tree.  We left apple and honey in a fork of the leopard tree, but before we left he had moved to an adjacent cocos palm, considerably higher than the original one.

Next day I had meeting to attend in the opposite direction, and the owner was headin g off for a few days, so I called Heike from Destiny Eco Cottage and Wendy Dunn of Fassifern Naturalists, and they both made the effort to head over and check out the trees. The bat was gone, hopefully back with his companions in a near-by colony.

Cocos palms are often a problem for bats and other wildlife, and the owner of the house is going to get rid of hers.  They can  be replaced by the native bangalow palms.