Common Risks to Native Wildlife

With the exception of the platypus and echidna, which are egg laying mammals (monotremes), Tasmanian native animals are marsupials and carry their young in a pouch.  A female gives birth to a tiny embryo, which crawls from the birth canal into the pouch.

The young animal is initially furless and blind, with its ears stuck down flat on its head. The young joey latches onto a teat and stays there until it has grown fur, opened its eyes and is able to get in and out of the pouch by itself.  Even when spending time out of the pouch, the joey depends on its mother for security and instruction.

Some young, such as Possums, Quolls and Tasmanian Devils, ride on their mothers' backs for a short time before becoming independent.
Wombat and Bandicoot babies follow their mothers when they are too big for the pouch.
Echidna and platypus young emerge from soft-shelled eggs which are laid in burrows and suckle milk from special ducts on the mother's belly.

Why do animals come into care?

  1. Hit by motor vehicles
  2. Mother shot and killed by hunters
  3. Attacked by dogs and cats
  4. Destruction of habitat
  5. Collisions with windows, fences and electricity wires
  6. Injured or blown off course through storms
  7. Fledglings falling from nests
  8. Fishing related
  9. Rubbish related

1. Hit by motor vehicles

By far the largest number of orphaned wildlife in Tasmania come from female native animals being hit by cars travelling on roads between dusk and dawn.  Roadkill occurs because the mainly nocturnal animals are out searching for mates, breeding sites or food.

When animals are crossing roads at night, the headlights confuse and blind them and they may panic and run.  The most common species for road kill are wallabies, wombats, possums and bandicoots. Raptors are sometimes killed as they are feeding off roadkill carrion.  Many young devils also get killed on roads when they first leave their mothers.

Wedge-tailed eagles, masked owls and devils are all on the Threatened Species list and are disappearing quickly in the wild, - every death is a catastrophe for the future survival of these species.

What you can do:

  • Driving 10 or 20 kph slower at night can give animals time to get clear. It is very dangerous to swerve around an animal or stop suddenly. Getting out of your car to assist an animal may expose you to serious danger: be aware, be safe
  • Consider fitting a sonic animal alert on your car - most are cheap and effective and may save serious damage to your vehicle.

2. Mother shot and killed by shooters

Recreational shooters or farmers carrying out game management, may shoot female wallabies and find in-pouch joeys.  In Tasmania, it is a shooting permit requirement that shooters euthanase joeys. Leaving young animals to fend for themselves will result in death from starvation, shock and exposure or being eaten by other animals.

Some hunters may take joeys home as pets for their children. If not cared for correctly, the joeys may die of shock, diarrhoea, dehydration and malnutrition after a week or two. If the joeys survive and reach sexual maturity, they may become problematic for their foster families.

Generally speaking, native animals do not make good pets when they reach sexual maturity. Their behaviour can become quite aggressive. Brushtail possums and wombats have powerful claws and teeth, whilst wallabies can inflict injuries with their powerful back legs.

If wildlife has become habituated to humans, it is impossible and unethical to just let them go in the bush, where they may bother neighbours by pestering for food, or take up residence in inconvenient places such as roof cavities. Some animals can't cope with the separation and die from starvation, stress, or from being attacked by other animals.

Wildlife carers get very busy in spring (September through to November) with shooting orphans often being left at vet surgeries.

What you can do:

  • If you are a shooter, euthanase joeys, don't take them home, unless you know how to care for them properly and are willing to look after them for up to 15 months and correctly prepare them for release back to the wild.
  • Do not let small joeys go to fend for themselves, this is cruel as the animal will be terrified and unable to care for itself.
  • If you do hand over a joey for care, think about donating the money that will be needed to care for the animal over the next few months. After all, you are responsible for its predicament.

3. Dog and Cat attacks

Many native animals are ground dwellers and are vulnerable to cat and dog attack. Dogs will target the larger species such as wallabies, possums, potoroos, bandicoots and bettongs.

Even if a dog doesn't directly kill an animal, chasing them can cause serious stress. Pademelon females will drop their joeys if they are stressed, and won't come back for them. Dogs can also dig up burrows and nests disturbing wildlife such as bandicoots and penguins.

Cats are responsible for vast losses of native wildlife. Small birds (including smaller penguins and nesting seabirds), bandicoots, pygmy possums, sugar gliders, dunnarts, lizards, snakes and frogs are all fair game. Feral cats are large, cunning predators that harbour potentially dangerous diseases such as toxoplasmosis and feline aids.

What you can do:

  • Obey dog signs and do not let your animals run loose through nature reserves.
  • Dog faeces spread disease and the smell disturbs and stresses native animals, so please pick faeces up and dispose of it hygienically.
  • Keep your dog in at night and don't let it roam about.
  • Keep your pet cat in at night and place a reflective collar with two or three bells around its neck.
  • Provide a purpose built enclosure for your cat to exercise in. This will not only save native wildlife but will protect your cat from harm.
  • Responsible owners have their pets desexed and microchipped.
  • Do not dump unwanted kittens or pets in the bush. This is cruel and contributes to the feral population.
  • Lobby your Member of Parliament and local Council to implement cat control legislation.

4. Destruction of Habitat

Natural habitat is being cleared at a very rapid rate for urban development, farming and forestry activities. Animals are forced to compete for shrinking natural habitats, which are quite often bisected by roadways or fences.

Islandisation is contributing to the loss of genetic diversity in native wildlife because many species will not cross the open spaces between bush areas. Wildlife corridors and riparian zones are becoming much more important from a conservation point of view.

Urban Development and the current fashion for very large houses on relatively small blocks and rock gardens with little vegetation is making it very difficult for native animals to survive in suburbia.

It is possible to create wildlife friendly areas without much effort and be waterwise and maintenance free as well.
High barrier type fences prevent easy access and block off escape routes if an animal needs to move away from a predator in a hurry.
Noise can be very disturbing to breeding animals

In urban areas, trees may be retained, but the understorey vegetation is cleared.  This vegetation is crucial to native species survival. Apart from providing shelter from heat, cold, wind, rain and predators, it provides food in the form of flowers, fruits, roots and insects. Without it, many species are facing local extinction

We have a tendency to discount the importance of insects in our environment. Many species still have not been identified or named and yet they form the foundation of the food chain for many animals.

Threats from Human Impacts

Just about everything humans do in the landscape affects native animals. Mining, forestry, farming, urban development plus the roads and bridges which connect people all permanently change the land that animals once had all to themselves.

Bush and forest clearing for wood, farm or urban development are devastating. These are complete ecosystems teeming with millions of life forms, all of which are lost when the trees go and may never return even if the bush itself regenerates.

Less obvious threats are weeds and diseases.  Many weeds overrun native vegetation and change habitats dramatically.  Pests like European wasps, fire ants and bumblebees have effects on vegetation and the health of native insects which drive the food chain.

Larger pests such as foxes and cats can decimate fauna.  Even the apparently harmless recruitment to the wild of escaped captive parrots can lead to local extinctions for indigenous birds.

Native animals may be directly competing for food with domestic livestock like sheep and cattle and game management is a real challenge for the future.

Farmers are learning the benefits of having microbats and small birds as insect controllers, raptors as pest eradicators and plants that provide climate control for their crops and animals.  Many are putting in riparian zones to improve water quality/flow and using straw ripper mulcher lines to prevent erosion.

Homeowners are discovering the usefulness and beauty of native plants and are learning more about Australian flora and fauna and are supporting the care of local reserves and parks.

Water for Wildlife

Animals need water to survive. Draining or filling in wetlands impacts dramatically on local biodiversity, as does ground water contamination through sewerage, toxic leachate etc. Damming and diverting rivers for irrigation may seriously impact habitats and the animals that depend on them. Clearing down to the edge of rivers and streams causes erosion and may affect water quality. Agricultural chemicals can be washed into the water and cause major problems.

Leaving vegetation along the riverbanks (riparian zones) is very effective in protecting the waterbugs in the water from extremes of heat and cold. The insects (macroinvertebrates) that breed in or close to water are an important food source for birds and other animals.

Natural Threats

Climate change will have significant effects on natural systems and may result in catastrophic events such as wildfires, drought, storms and changing seasonal temperatures (ie warmer winters)

The loss of  large or dead trees through bushfire and storm means that animals dependant on hollows such as possums, owls, bats and parrots, cannot find homes to raise young.  Only old trees have hollows and it may take many years before they are suitable for nesting.

Bushfires burn the vegetation close to the ground (understorey) and this results in loss of food, shelter and nesting sites for small birds and ground dwelling animals like bandicoots, potoroos, dunnarts etc.

Fires may also destroy fallen logs which takes away shelter for animals such as echidna, devils, quolls, reptiles, frogs etc

What you can do:

  • Keep bushland intact wherever possible, even the smallest bit will support some wildlife. If you have a rural property, consider setting a piece of bush aside under a covenant or agreement.
  • Provide water for birds and frogs.  Do not feed wild animals.
  • Design your garden with native flowering plants, rather than exotic ones, - these may escape and go feral.
  • Join a conservation or wildlife group as a volunteer, there is a lot of work to be done in local reserves and beaches.
  • Find out more about your wildlife and survey your local area. Many groups are interested in gathering local information.
  • Learn about your local geography. Think about what might depend on the little puddle of water that you see in the bush or how the wind and frost might impact once the trees have gone.

5. Collisions with windows, fences and electricity wires

Birds come into care following collisions with window panes or fences. Some birds find their reflections quite fascinating and will wastefully expend vital energy fluttering at their own images.

Concussion is the most common injury from window collisions, followed by fractures of wings. Some birds such as swift parrots, may fly into mesh perimeter fences like those around tennis courts.

What you can do:

  • Place an injured bird in a box and keep it warm, quiet and dark. Sometimes it will recover and be able to be released in a few hours.
  • If a wing is obviously broken take the bird to professional care as soon as possible
  • To discourage collisions, hang blinds/curtains at windows, grow plants in front of them to stop reflections, or stick posters or stickers on the glass. Even leaving window panes dusty in the breeding season will make a difference.
  • Grow non-invasive native climbing plants over fences or cover them in hessian or shadecloth.
  • Electrocution is responsible for some bird deaths. Birds with large wings spans such as eagles and swans may get electrocuted when they inadvertently fly into high power lines. If these animals survive, they need immediate professional and expert care.

6. Injured or blown off course through storms

Sea birds can sometimes be blown inland and suffer serious buffetting and bruising during storms. Whilst the bird is disoriented or concussed on the ground it is vulnerable to attack from predators.
Identification of the species is essential. Provide the bird with a quiet dark place (box) to recover and if there is no improvement, seek help as soon as possible.

7.  Fledglings falling from nests

If you find an apparently abandoned chick or fledgling, stop and listen to see if parent birds are close by calling to it. Sometimes they will continue to feed and protect their young even when they are on the ground.  Parent birds do a much better job of feeding their young than a carer can, so this option is always worth a try.

Try returning the bird to its nest. This is not always possible, particularly if the nest is sixty feet up a tree! Watch the bird for a while, to make sure it doesn't fall out again. Sometimes, parents will jettison their chicks, probably because they know instinctively that it is sick or too weak to survive.  Whilst this may seem heartless to us, it makes good sense to Nature. The parent birds are flat out feeding young, and they haven't got energy to spare on a chick that won't make it.  In some cases, the other chicks will eat the weakling.

Swamp Harriers nest on the ground and fledglings can wander away and be found on roadsides. Do not pick these birds up unless they are obviously injured. The parents will continue to feed them and will do their best to protect them. If they are on the side of a busy road, try shepherding them under the fence back into a paddock. Be careful of your own safety when stopping to assist.

What you can do:

  • Keep concussed birds warm, quiet and in a dark box - they may recover after a few hours.
  • If injured take to a vet as soon as possible.
  • Fledglings need warmth from a heat source such as a chick incubator.
  • Chicks need specialised care. Identifying them can be difficult if they have no feathers, and it is very important to establish if they are insectivores, seed or meat eaters.
  • Get further information from BirdLife Australia

Dead penguins on beach

8. Fishing Related

Sea birds and marine mammals can become entangled in fishing line, nets or floating plastic rubbish such as supermarket bags.  If fishing line gets wound around a bird's leg, it may act as a tourniquet, and lead to gangrene and loss of the leg.

Each year thousands of marine mammals, sea birds and fish drown from being caught up in fishing nets and marine rubbish.

What you can do:

  • Never leave fishing line or hooks behind on jetties, or throw them overboard.
  • Obey regulations related to net fishing, marine reserves and 'no netting' areas.
  • Don't leave fishing nets unattended.

Telephone contacts: 

  • Fisherman's Watch   1800 005 555
  • Seal Hotline   0418 123 772
  • Whale Hotline   0427 942 537

9. Rubbish Related

Rubbish in stormwater water drains can pose threats for land animals to.  Platypus have been found with rubber 'O' rings,  drink bottle rings or hair 'scrunchies' around their necks.  As the animal grows, the ring cuts into the flesh and the animal cannot swallow and the wound becomes infected, leading to a slow and gruesome death from infection and starvation.  Scrunchies and rubber bands around limbs can cause tissue death, gangrene and amputations.

Platypus can also get caught up in fishing 'deadlines' along river banks.  This practice, although against the law, is still used on many Tasmanian rivers.

Leaving rubbish lying around and uncovered encourages European wasps which are deadly enemies to many native insect species.  Rubbish also encourages sea gulls, brushtail possums and rats to breed up and become nuisances.

Increasing numbers of birds are getting their beaks caught by the 'security' rings around soft drink bottles which result in starvation as the bird cannot close its beak or feed.

What you can do:

  • Dispose of rubbish in the appropriate manner.
  • Always try to recycle or re-use items.
  • Join campaigns such as 'Clean Up Australia' and clean up rivers and stormwater drains.
  • Be careful when using plastic bags. Apart from swimming into them (penguins and fish), some animals such as seals, think they are squid or jellyfish and ingest them. The bags stay in the animal's stomach making it feel full. The animal may subsequently die from starvation or bowel obstruction.
  • Stop using plastic shopping bags, go calico!
  • Many seabirds have stomachs full of bits of plastic which are swallowed during feeding.  Currents are washing great rafts of this debris together and causing major problems for oceanic life.
  • Before recycling plastic bottles, remove the security rings and cut them so that they no longer form a solid 'o'.
  • Tons of rubbish are washed out to sea through stormwater systems including vast numbers of cigarette butts.  A special item that is causing deep concern at the present time is the use of millions of balloons for human celebrations.  Helium filled balloons can travel great distances before they deflate and they may get washed into the sea where they can be swallowed by seals, dolphins and birds.

By changing our habits we can stop these serious threats to our oceans. Clean Up Australia Campaign