When people think of Australian native wildlife they usually think of mammals, particularly the larger ones such as kangaroos and koalas. These are thriving in the Bend of Islands but so are many other species that are more secretive or less well known. They range from the Common Wombat to the Platypus, from the tiny Dunnart to the Swamp Wallaby, from the Brush-Tailed Phascogale (Tuan) to the Sugar Glider.
In order to ensure the continued survival of such a variety of native animals it is essential that their habitat is preserved as far as possible. The provisions of the ELZ seek to do this, but the participation of the residents is essential.
Brush-tailed phascogale or Tuan (Phascogale tapoatafa)
These are small (rat sized) carnivorous marsupials. Like all marsupials the young are born prematurely and are nourished in the mother’s pouch attached to a teat for some weeks. Scientists believe that phascogales are a species that could become threatened with extinction in the near future. For them to survive in any area certain environmental conditions need to exist including:
Food – insects and other small animals. These in turn require their particular habitat such as forest floor litter, decaying logs and so on.
Shelter – phascogales shelter in hollows of standing trees or logs. A community without a substantial number of mature trees and ageing trees cannot support phascogales.
Phascogale populations are able to support a population of predators and normally a balance exists between numbers of predators and prey. The native predators include Owls and, before they became extinct in this part of Australia, Quolls (Native Cats). Introduced predators, frequently more efficient than indigenous ones, often upset the balance and it is known that small native mammals soon disappear from areas where people allow dogs and particularly cats to roam in the bush.
Swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor)
Specific environmental requirements of Swamp Wallabies again centre on food and shelter. Wallabies are browsers, i.e. they eat leaves of certain native shrubs such as Parrot Pea (Dillwynia sp.), Spreading Wattle (Acacia genistifolia) and Austral Indigo (Indigofera australe). It is therefore essential that management practices in the area encourage the regeneration of such understory species. Gullies with denser vegetation such as Prickly Moses (Acacia verticillata), Blackwood (A. melanoxylon) and Burgan (Kunzea phylicoides) provide day-time shelter for these larger mammals. During quiet times these animals will visit your home, usually to attack the pot-plant on the verandah! Roaming domestic dogs are well known predators on wallabies and a dog-free environment will help their continued survival in the Bend of Islands.
Sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps)
Sugar Gliders are opportunistic feeders, that is, they can exploit a number of alternative food sources. These include seasonal nectar flow from flowering eucalypts, sap from wattles, lerps and other insects. These fluffy-tailed gliding possums, about the size of a kitten, are relatively common in the Bend of Islands but again will only remain so if their environment supplies the correct food sources, shelter in standing dead or hollow eucalypt trees and freedom from such exotic predators as cats.
The Importance of Habitat
These three examples serve to remind us that all animals have their own specific requirements and that if they are to continue to survive in a particular area those requirements must be met. Alteration of the environment is the most important factor contributing to the extinction of species.
An article about A Probable case of twin Echidnas in the ELZ, published in the Victorian Naturalist, December 2007, describes a great record for the ELZ. It can be accessed at Echidna Vic Nat Article
An incomplete list of native mammal species know to occur in the Bend of Islands
Sugar Glider – see Predation of Eastern Rosella Nest by Sugar Glider
Brush Tailed Possum
Ring Tailed Possum
Eastern Grey Kangaroo
Eastern Water Rat
Grey-headed Flying Fox