UCL Museums & Collections Blog
  •  
  •  
  • Categories

  •  
  • Tags

  •  
  • Archives

  • On the search for the Scaly-tailed possum: Wet and Wildlife

    By Jack Ashby, on 11 December 2014

    A scaly-tailed possum caught on a camera trap in AWC's Artesian Range. (C) Australian Wildlife Conservancy,

    A scaly-tailed possum caught on a camera trap
    in AWC’s Artesian Range.
    (C) Australian Wildlife Conservancy,

    Over the past few years I have been spending my spare time in a remote area of the Kimberley, on the northwest corner of Australia, helping a conservation NGO – the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) – to do ecological fieldwork. AWC are Australia’s largest private owner of land for conservation, and their mission is to manage it based on scientific research. In the northwest their big long-term projects involve determining the effects of cattle and different fire management practices on tropical savannah ecosystems. And in my most recent two trips I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the detection of super-scarce species in extremely remote pockets of rainforest and monsoonal woodland.

    A few years ago AWC acquired an amazing patch of the Kimberley called Artesian Range – monsoonal savannah criss-crossed with sandstone ranges, gorges of vine-thickets and rainforest pockets. I remember going through the first set of remote camera trap images that came back from Artestian in 2011 and being amazed at the species that were being detected.

    An endemic Kimberley rock rat being re-released

    An endemic Kimberley rock rat being re-released

    The haven from extinction

    It seems that Artesian Range is the only place in mainland Australia not to have suffered any mammal extinctions since European colonisation. A community of amazing endemics has clung on – scaly-tailed possums, golden-backed tree rats, monjons, golden bandicoots and Kimberley rock rats. When I was analyzing those camera trap images in 2011 I was a couple of hundred kilometres south of Artesian, on AWC Northwest’s main home sanctuary, Mornington. Artesian Range is in one of the least accessible parts of Australia, requiring a combination of propeller-plane, serious 4WD and helicopter to get to. As amazing as it was to see these species on the screen, I instantly knew I had to go and see them in the flesh. For me, the scaly-tailed possum had become the holy grail.
    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 160

    By Jack Ashby, on 3 November 2014

    Scary MonkeyWe all know that in this world of competing stimuli, an animal really needs to work hard to get people interested, achieve celebrity status in the media, and ultimately realise the dream that all animals hold – to star their own bank, crisps or cereal advert.

    We trade in animal USPs every day… We talk about the biggest/smallest/rarest/fastest/ugliest/deadliest, and this is what gets aspiring animal stars into the And Finally… sections of the news.

    The A-Team of animal superlatives is well established, and so today I am acting (for a commission) to promote the under-promoted of the animal world. This Australian marvel has a long list of -est”s to its name.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    The Western Australian shark cull

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 14 January 2014

    The Situation
    Twenty deaths have occurred in Western Australia due to sharks, over the last one hundred years (1). On one hand every life lost is a tragedy. On the other hand 20 deaths over 100 years, is nothing compared to other causes of death such as obesity, car accidents and even lightning. Each year, more people get killed by toasters worldwide than sharks. Nevertheless, the government decided action was needed to reduce the number of shark-related marine traumas and three years ago proposed a cull. This proposal was overturned in favour of investing $1.7 million into establishing four research projects at the Department of Fisheries in Western Australia to run from 2011-12 to 2015-16. The outline of these projects was to study shark ecology and behaviour, with the intended outcome of ‘improved capability to manage shark hazards’ (2). Sadly, a shark related marine trauma occurred at the end of 2013, which resulted in the death of a young father of two. Despite the rarity of such cases, and the yet to be completed research projects at the Department of Fisheries, the incident provoked a knee-jerk reaction* from the WA government in the guise of another proposal for a shark cull in Western Australia. In an official statement to the press, the WA government stated that the cull would comprise three major components (1): (more…)

    Animal record breaking

    By Jack Ashby, on 28 June 2012

    So far I’ve been very good at not linking activities at the Grant Museum to the Olympics. While I’m out here on ecological fieldwork in the remote northwest savannahs of northwest Australia, The Games have been very far from my mind. However, the phrase “new record” has been bandied about quite a lot here this month, and now I find myself writing a post that has nothing to do with the Olympics, but I’ve now already mentioned them three times. I appear to have jumped on the bandwagon of making a spurious link – something that everyone seems to be doing these days. Apologies.

    I’m currently working with a small team of ecologists catching animals on wildlife sanctuaries and cattle stations to monitor the effects of cattle and fire management on the ecosystem. This year we’ve caught a fair few animals in areas in which they’ve never been seen before. The excitement of being part of these new records is definitely personally valuable, but I’ve also been thinking about how these single pieces of data are potentially more valuable than all of the other single animals we catch.

    (more…)

    Catching dingoes in the dead of night

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 June 2012

    I spend lots of my holiday time volunteering for a charity in Australia which manages huge areas of land for conservation. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy is dedicated to undertaking in-depth ecological research to form the basis of the decisions on how to manage their sanctuaries. For the past three years I’ve been working with the team of ecologists which manage sanctuaries in northwest Australia, and right now I’m back in the central Kimberley.

    In the past I’ve written posts about pitfall, funnel and treadle-trapping for small mammals, lizards, snakes and frogs, and that’s what I’m doing most of the time at the moment, but on top of that I’ve also been involved with catching dingoes, which has been an intense and exciting experience. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Seven

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 28 November 2011

    Scary MonkeyI am pretty excited about this week’s specimen as it is our first specimen suggestion that has come from a reader (who I don’t know personally.) (That is unless it’s someone I know acting under a pseudonym?) (But that’s probably improbable.)

     

    It is an animal of Hollywood acclaim, is famed for its crazy antics, is thought by many to be the second most venomous vertebrate in the world, and two individuals of unknown species once saved the life of our museum assistant. The specimen of the week is… (more…)

    Firing cannons at birds

    By Jack Ashby, on 30 June 2011

    Natural history has always been a field largely populated by amateurs. This is one of its biggest strengths. Without the passion and interest of millions of people worldwide it would be very hard to get anything done – both politically and financially. And by referring to people as amateurs I’m certainly not suggesting that they can’t also be experts.

    Ringing a bar-tailed godwit

    Ringing a bar-tailed godwit

    Hard-core natural historians regularly fall into one of three groups – birders, mammal-tickers and herpos (those obsessed with reptiles and amphibians). A common trend among them (though not true of all members of each group) is the desire to “tick off” as many species as they can, and create a nice long list of everything they have seen. (more…)

    Cows and cremation – fighting fire with fire

    By Jack Ashby, on 20 June 2011

    In my last post I begun to talk about the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s ecologists that I have joined for a month in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. It’s the dry season here and while most of the land isn’t underwater the annual ecological trapping survey is underway.

    This involves trapping small mammals, lizards, snakes and frogs and doing bird and vegetation surveys to assess what lives in various different habitats here. A couple of major investigations are underway – the purpose isn’t just to create a list of residents. About half of the reserve has had cattle removed from it (because of seemingly bizarre land-leasing laws this conservation NGO is technically required to run their wildlife sanctuary as a cattle station), and one question is to ask what impact that has on the ecology. It’s easy to predict that the many small mammals that rely on grass seed would be affected by these massive grazers, and this is what the data are suggesting. (more…)

    Australian fieldwork: a pocket guide

    By Jack Ashby, on 27 May 2011

    I’m writing from the Kimberley region of north-western Australia, where I’m spending a month or so trapping animals with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). This is how I spend my holidays, or at least as many of them as I can. This is my third trip to Oz over the past year, and I’ve spent about seven of the last 13 months doing fieldwork here.

    This has caused several people to ask me why I keep coming back to Australia; it’s a big world out there and there are plenty of mammals to chase around the rest of the globe. Why I don’t I go somewhere else? (more…)

    Cane toads ate my baby

    By Jack Ashby, on 28 April 2011

    A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 13

    From April 2010 I spent about five months undertaking several zoological field projects across Australia. I worked with government agencies, universities and NGOs on conservation and ecology studies ranging from Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, the effect of fire, rain and introduced predators on desert ecology and how to poison cats. This series of blog posts is a delayed account of my time in the field.

    Weeks Sixteen to Nineteen – part 2

    Last week I described how we went about trapping small fauna at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Wongalara sanctuary in the Northern Territory’s Top End. This week I want to talk about cane toads and some of the other feral beasts around. (more…)