Forget bird-banding: what about interfering with wombats?

To: b-a <>
Subject: Forget bird-banding: what about interfering with wombats?
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Sat, 07 Oct 2000 14:07:44 +1000

Hello Night Parrot,

          Forget bird-banding, it's a relatively harmless pursuit.  Wing your night-vision up to Epping Forest National Park near Emerald in Queensland and consult the Hairy-nosed Wombats about the indignities and worse (such as transportation and death) visited upon them by researchers.

When I investigated the area as a possible NP in the '60s, we knew the population was severely limited, and that no other population was known to exist.  One didn't need DNA sequencing or to be a Nobel laureate to appreciate that the genetic diversity was severely limited ... and that there is no way of increasing it unless another population is miraculously discovered (it hasn't been!).

Their burrows are conspicuous, so large in fact that I had to dissuade the young zoologist who was with me from attempting to slither down a burrow with a rope around an ankle for me to pull him out if he couldn't turn.  Fresh droppings immediately distinguish active from unoccupied burrows.  Increasing or decreasing numbers in the broad sense can thus be determined from brief annual inspections.  And in any case do we need to know?  We already know numbers are so pitifully small that anything that can be done to assist their increase should be done.

And we have the example of a successful recovery program for the southern h-n species by excluding herbivorous competitors and predators, to show a sensible way to go.

Yet for years that tiny population was disturbed by being regularly trapped, measured, weighed, etc.  Maybe still are for all I know.  Great fun for the researchers; material for papers in scientific journals even.  But I have yet to be convinced that anything resulting from this interference will actually assist the survival of the population.  

I can't imagine that such on-going disturbance in any way helps these intensely shy animals to procreate ... which is the only way the population can increase.

I doubt if the survival of any Australian bird species is being jeopardised by banding.  Interference, in the name of research, may be putting the Epping Forest H-N Wombats at risk.

Syd Curtis (or so my mother told me) at Hawthorne in Queensland.
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