Going batty on the wire
4 September 2005
Northern Territory News/Sunday Territorian

Every few days for the past month I have had injured fruit bats brought in to me. These bats often have horrific injuries. They have all been caught up in barbed wire fences. Barbed wire is dangerous to many creatures and bats are no exception. Fruit bats use their eyes to see at night rather than using echolocation (like the smaller bats do). They have amazing night vision -- until it comes to barbed wire. These brave little creatures come in exhausted and torn. They present with torn ligaments, broken bones, and terrible mouth injuries -- all from trying to release themselves from their wire prison.

It may be days before they are found and rescued. I usually end up needing to operate to fix them. Despite their injuries, they are very brave and usually remain calm and gentle while being examined. They are incredibly perceptive: I have seen a bat hold out its second wing to be examined after I had checked its first wing. There is a risk involved in rescuing bats. It is a deadly but rare disease called Lyssa virus. A scratch or bite from an injured bat could be fatal to humans.

So if you see a bat caught on a wire, call Wildlife rescue and they will send someone to rescue it. If you choose to rescue a bat remember to wear thick gloves and if you get scratched or bitten, get medical help straight away. Be careful -- though usually gentle, bats are in a lot of pain when caught. They need a (vaccinated) vet straight away.

If you are fencing it is worth considering alternatives to barbed wire. Some councils have banned barbed wire to minimise the need to rescue bats.

Night Parrots
February 16, 2007
The Australian
A rare night parrot was flying between its feeding grounds and a waterhole in far western Queensland when it struck a barbed wire fence
and was killed. The Australian revealed last week that National Parks and Wildlife Service officers discovered the headless bird in November, confirming the survival of Australia's rarest bird. It was only the second time in almost 100 years that a night parrot had been recorded. Parks service central regional director Keith Twyford said yesterday the bird was found near a waterhole in a sparsely vegetated area in the Diamantina National Park. Mr Twyford said it appeared to have been flying from nearby spinifex-covered sand dunes. The locality was about 200km south of where a road-killed night parrot was found near Boulia in 1990, the first confirmed record since 1912. The sprawling 500,000ha national park is the home of the bilby, the kowari, the yellow chat and other endangered wildlife.
Mr Twyford said surveys by parks officers after the discovery failed to turn up more parrots, and access to the area had since been limited by rain and flooding.Further surveys with Birds Australia and other private groups were planned when the weather improved. Mr Twyford said that since The Australian's report, the parks service and the Queensland Museum, where the specimen has been freeze dried, have received calls from around the country. ``For the bird-loving community, this is the equivalent of finding the tomb of King Tutankhamen,'' he said. ``The great thing is that it shows that the birds are still surviving out there.'' Adelaide bush safari operator Rex Ellis said yesterday that he was leading a camel safari in 1979 when four night parrots were flushed from a shrub-covered plain near Lake Perigundi, in northeast South Australia. Mr Ellis said six observers, including the then South Australian Museum birds curator, the late Shane Parker, saw the parrots.

Bad news for one night parrot, good for species
Greg Roberts
February 16, 2007

ONE "dead" parrot in Queensland has risen phoenix-like from the ashes, as another has been given its last rites. The Australian has learned that National Parks and Wildlife Service officers have found a dead night parrot in the state's far west, confirming the survival of Australia's rarest bird. In a discovery of international significance, the parrot was found in November in the Diamantina Lakes region after it flew into a barbed-wire fence. The Government has kept the find secret to avoid birdwatchers searching for night parrots while it does a survey to find more.

A road-killed night parrot found in 1990 near Boulia, in northwest Queensland, by Australian Museum scientists was the first confirmed record of the species since 1912. That find forced millionaire businessman Dick Smith to part with a $50,000 reward he had offered for evidence that it existed. Both the Boulia parrot and the latest bird were headless.

An unsubstantiated report of night parrots in Western Australia's Pilbara in 2005 held up a planned $2 billion iron ore mine. The night parrot is Australia's only nocturnal parrot. It feeds and nests on the ground and once widely inhabited the outback. Its population crashed in the 19th century for reasons that remain obscure.

Pilot dies in glider accident
February 26. 2007
The Australian

A glider pilot was decapitated yesterday when his aircraft hit a barbed-wire fence in northern NSW. The 38-year-old Sydney man was learning to fly and was being towed by another plane when his glider was prematurely released, sending him into the fence. The accident occurred at the Keepit airstrip, near Tamworth on the NSW northern slopes.
A NSW police spokeswoman said the man who was in the front seat of the glider, was killed instantly when the aircraft crashed into barbed wire at the end of the strip. The instructor, who was in the second seat behind the victim, received only minor injuries to his arm and was treated by ambulance officers at the scene. A spokesman for the Lake Keepit Soaring Club, Geoff Neely, said the glider had been linked via a 60m cable to a propeller plane and was being towed down the runway. He said both the plane and the glider had lifted off but the pilot of the plane had been forced to release the cable because the plane was in danger of hitting trees at the end of the runway.
“If for any reason you’re not climbing, either pilot can release the cable,” Mr Neely said. “The power aircraft, relieved of that drag has a bit of a chance of climbing away.”
The propeller plane recovered and landed safely. The glider made a controlled landing on the runway but was unable to stop as it ran off the end of the runway and slammed into the fence. The dead man’s instructor said thunderstorms in the area may have played a part in the death. The accident is the third fatal glider crash in NSW in six months. In September, a 48-year-old pilot died when his plane crashed in southern NSW, and in August a father and son were killed when their motorised glider crashed in a paddock at Catherine Field, in Sydney’s southwest.

Blind cruelty to bats
Sydney Morning Herald
Monday, 25 June 2007

Gardening expert Peter Cundall refers to fruit bats as "flying gardeners performing a priceless environmental service". Unfortunately, scores of fruit bats (flying foxes) are injured and killed in backyard fruit-tree netting each year.
The worst netting, and the bane of wildlife rescuers' lives, is the cheap, imported, black monofilament variety. Because it is invisible at night, animals become hopelessly entangled in its sharp strands. Most die of shock and injuries or take months to rehabilitate.

For the sake of our flying gardeners - sugar gliders, birds and possums - please use only white "knitted" netting on backyard trees. Even better, be an urban conservationist and share your fruit with our unique wildlife.

Letter to the Editor from Lawrence Pope, Victorian Advocates For Animals, North Carlton (Vic)

Bovines without borders … cows model the new collars.
Richard Macey , Sydney Morning Herald
June 14, 2007

IT'S the cry of farmers when city folk visit: "Shut the bloody gate."

After three years of research, Australian scientists have come up with a solution to keeping the animals in - the virtual fence. "It's like an electric fence, except it's invisible," Andrew Fisher, leader of a research team at the CSIRO's Livestock Industries division in Armidale, said yesterday. A farmer would create the virtual fence by mapping out the proposed boundary using a computer linked to a satellite global positioning system. The livestock to be fenced in would wear battery-powered collars around their necks. If a cow, for example, wandered within a metre or two of the virtual fence the collar, fitted with a GPS chip, would emit a warning hum. If the cow ignored the sound and crossed the line it would receive a mild electric shock, less powerful than those used by electric fences.

Dr Fisher said experiments showed that cattle took less than an hour to learn to back off when they heard the warning hum. He expected sheep would be equally easy to train. He said the technology, observed by independent animal welfare and ethics experts, was humane. Monitoring of the heart rates and hormone levels of cattle in the experiments showed the stresses were no greater than those of routine farm life.

While commercial versions of the virtual fence were probably five to 10 years away, Dr Fisher said the technology would bring significant labour savings to farmers, especially on properties where livestock had to be shifted frequently from pasture to pasture. But conventional rural fences would still have a place: "Farms will always need to have an outer boundary."

US Border Fence Seen Harming Ocelots, Butterflies
Ed Stoddard, Reuters News Service
Planet Ark World Environment News
26 July 2007

ON THE RIO GRANDE, Texas - The riot of green vegetation that lines both sides of the Rio Grande river along the southeast Texas and Mexican border can give a canoeist the impression of gliding past unbroken wilderness. But the strip of riparian forest that runs a few miles between the Texas towns of Fronton and Roma is deceptive. In reality one of the most ecologically diverse corners of the United States has been diced up by farming and urban sprawl into isolated fragments of habitat that support far less wildlife than when they were whole. Now, conservationists are concerned that a planned border security fence to stem illegal immigration from Mexico could cut this delicate area up even more and possibly remove the corridor of vital riverbank habitat that remains.

"We know as habitats become fragments whether by roads, fences or walls animals become much less capable of roaming widely," said Dr. Joel Berger, a senior scientist with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

"As these restrictions occur animals become isolated and with isolation the risks of local extinctions greatly increase," he said.

Animals at risk of local extinction include the US population of the ocelot, a wild cat that is down to a few dozen animals, and several species of birds. Rare native plants such as sabal palm trees are down to a few isolated patches. Driving along Route 281 which hugs this section of the Rio Grande reveals what lies behind the forested facade on the river's edge -- fast-growing border towns and cultivated fields of corn, sugar cane and other crops. At stake is the sheer diversity of life in a region of lush subtropical vegetation threaded by a great river, lying between vast arid landscapes to the west and the Gulf of Mexico to the east. Few Americans are aware of the area's ecological significance, which in four counties includes 300 butterfly species -- more than the rest of the country east of the Mississippi -- and over 500 different birds.

Ecologists are trying to reconnect the dots by revegetating old farmland with native plants which they hope to link up. At the Nature Conservancy of Texas' 1,000-acre Southmost Preserve, the contrast is plain along a dirt road with a cornfield on one side and wild bush on the other.

"This side looked exactly like that cornfield seven years ago," said Lisa Williams, a local project director with the Nature Conservancy, as she pointed to the tangle of wild growth which included haunting tepegauje trees -- a key species of the area -- their feathery leaves blowing in the wind.

"These are the pearls in a necklace which we are trying to string together," she said. A pair of coyotes ran furtively through a field while a coot, an aquatic bird, chattered from a wetland. When ecologists look at a patchwork of ecosystems cut up by roads or farms they think of islands -- and like islands out to sea, their isolation can be the undoing of their inhabitants.

According to the World Conservation Union, about 800 species have become extinct since 1500, when records began. Most were on islands. But scientists say that extinctions and steep local population declines are now creeping onshore because continental habitats are being diced up by human activities. Isolation makes populations more prone to sudden die-offs from disease or drought and also limits their genetic pool. Other tracts of land besides Southmost are being protected in the area and reverted to their original state -- but there are worries the wall could cut through some of this work.

"There are two dozen species of very specialised birds that only live in the river forest and if that was cleared for the wall they will be lost to the area," said Martin Hagne, the executive director of the Valley Nature Center. Supporters of the wall say it is needed to stem the tide of illegal immigration into the United States and the government says one green spin off will be a reduction in the mountains of litter which illicit crossers leave behind.

"I think it's well documented the affect that illegal border crossing activity has on the environment. The result in many cases is refuse left behind such as plastic bottles, clothes and discarded rubber rafts," said Michael Friel, a spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection. He also said that in areas where effective control of the border has been reasserted such as near San Diego, local wild habitat which was trampled by illegal crossers has regrown.

Elsewhere international fences are being dropped for conservation reasons. The fence between South Africa's famed Kruger National Park and Mozambique is being removed to make more room for elephants and other wildlife.

Virtual fence almost reality
Peter Morley, The Courier Mail
16 August, 2007

Barbed wire and posts will become a thing of the past when the CSIRO perfects a virtual fence that keeps cattle contained. Collars fitted to animals will emit a sound that warns cattle when they are approaching a virtual boundary line. The boundaries are drawn by a global positioning system and exist only as a line on a computer.
“There are no wires or fixed transmitters used at all in this animal-friendly approach” CSIRO spokesman Andrew Fisher said.
“What we are developing achieves the same result as a conventional fence but without the need for posts and wire.”

Dr Fisher said the collars contained advanced software to identify when a beast was near a fence line and which signal should be emitted. A prototype system had been successfully demonstrated on a herd of cattle which learnt within an hour to avoid the virtual fence boundary. “The cattle learn by associating the sound signal with their behaviour as they approach the boundary,” Dr Fisher said.
Researchers had conducted measurements, overseen by an independen animal welfare expert, that showed the animals were not unduly stressed by the systen, which hopefully would be developed commercially.

Once the boundary was set using the satellite technology, the sensor-based system was fully automated and self-sufficient and it allowed farmers to continuously monitor the location of their cattle, Dr Fisher said.
“Although there is still some work to be done in areas such as smart power management before the system is commercially viable, we can envisage a farm of the future where farmers can fence their property from the comfort of their homesteads,” Dr Fisher said.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Art Awards
Miriam Cosic, The Australian
11-12 August, 2007

The prize for three-dimensional work, named in memory of the artist and elder most Wandjuk Marika and usually awarded for funerary poles from Arnhem Land, was this year given to Laurie Nilson, an artist from western Queensland, for an installation of three emus made of moulded barbed wire.

An environmental piece which operates on many levels, Goolburris on the Bungil Creek sprang from Nilson's memory of coming across 40 emus in one day lying dead or dying after strangling themselves on barbed-wire fences while trying to reach water.

Laurie Nilsen is a respected Queensland artist who's work is centrally concerned with the environment and the politics of Aboriginality. He has exhibited widely nationally and internationally and his work is represented in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia along with many other public and private collections.

Interviewed by the ABC, "The pieces produced now may not easily fit into the category of traditional or 'serious' sculptures. But to me they are far more serious! As I get older and with a lot of political artworks behind me I've realised the powerful tool we have when mixing art and political comment …. I'm from Roma in western Queensland. I've been an artist on and off since I was about 15, but more serious over the last 15 years. A lot of my art deals with Aboriginal culture, about my people, or sometimes political or environmental issues. I am mainly concentrating on sculpture now."

"Some of my work deals with the environment, especially some of the environmental issues. That's one of the reasons why I started to do the big life size emus made out of barbed wire, because it's the barbed wire that kills them. I've seen in places, when I've been working in the bush or just travelling back out to home to spend a bit of time, especially during the drought time when the emus are trying to get to the water holes and they're all fenced off. They're not like a kangaroo that can either jump over or crawl under. They seem to just pace up and down the fence and then they decide to step through and a lot of them get caught up in the top two strands, they twist over and their leg just gets caught and they lay there till they die.

"I mentioned to you earlier about coming across 40-odd different emus in a fence line one day, some of them had been dead for a week, it was a really bad drought about 10 years ago, and some were on their last sort of dying stages. It was a pretty horrific thing for me to have to go along and put them out of their misery. There wasn't much sense me untangling them and most of them weren't going to survive anyway, or none of them were going to survive, so you just don't like to see things suffer like that. It's probably the hardest thing I had to do was to go along and put them out of their misery. You would have liked to have been able to cut the fences down and let them all into the dam, but, yes. So those pieces, I quite enjoy doing them. Like I said, they're life size and they're made out of barbed wire, the thing that kills them, so it's almost like a regeneration or, yes, reincarnating them again. I don't think I'll ever get around to making as many as I've seen perish but.

"I grew up using barbed wire, fencing you know, and it's one of them things, if you grab it by the scruff of the neck it won't bite you but, yes, if you be a little bit tentative it always seems to get you. But just a solid week and a half or two weeks of handling barbed wire it's inevitable that you're just going to – it's almost like sandpapering all the fingerprints off. So you need another month to get over them. Yes, it's sort of like your little sacrifice that you have to spill a little bit of blood

Lovers in the air, a mate on the ground
Deborah Smith, Science Editor, Sydney Morning Herald
September 24, 2007

NO ONE knows more about tawny frogmouths than Gisela Kaplan. And she is smitten.

"I have watched them copulate, build nests, brood and raise offspring from just metres away," says the Armidale scientist, who has spent thousands of hours, day and night, observing the unique Australian species on her bushland property. This bird is as heart-meltingly gorgeous as perhaps only a baby koala or a labrador puppy can be," she says. "And as individuals, tawny frogmouths often have a charming disposition, very similar to that of parrots."

You wouldn't know it from their name, of course, a reference to their bark-like colouring and overly large mouths that are good for crushing beetles and cockroaches.

Tawny frogmouths, the only nocturnal birds living in backyards across most of the country, have a darker side too. The irises of the males' eyes turn from yellow to red before they attack any male or female that enters their territory.

They are the "skunks of the air", says Professor Kaplan, of the Centre for a Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour at the University of New England. Sometimes they ejaculate foul-smelling faeces "not just with enormous force but also over a wide area", perhaps to ward off snakes and monitor lizards that eat their eggs and chicks. These big-eyed fluffy birds, however, also partner for life and are protective, devoted parents: "Once the young have left the nest, the family tends to roost closely together."

Professor Kaplan, who is also an expert in orangutans and magpies, hand-raised 36 tawny frogmouths during the past decade. As well, she closely watched 10 birds in the wild, developing an intimate relationship with two wild pairs that stayed near her home for periods of six and nine years. Her observations, set out in a new book, Tawny Frogmouth, published by the CSIRO, provide the first detailed study of the behaviour and communication skills of the species.

Tawny frogmouths may have short legs and walk with a hobble, but they fly with a silent grace and those she has raised have learnt to take food from her hand with a deadly accuracy, never touching her fingers. They also sometimes emit a gut-wrenching whimper - "the closest to crying in an animal that I have yet heard" - that she has heard when baby birds lose their parents or fledglings leave home for the first time. By eating cockroaches, spiders, beetles, mice, lizards, centipedes, scorpions, snails and slugs they help humans get rid of pests, but are threatened by man-made inventions such as barbed wire and pesticides.

Glider deaths on barbed wire fences: a call  for help to reduce the problem.

Blackbraes is a National Park about 240 k. north of Hughenden. It is the site of an isolated and unexpected stand of Lemon-scented Gum which is home to a population of Greater Gliders and Sugar Gliders.

The Park is surrounded by grazing properties, as a consequence of which the boundary fence is comprised of barbed wire, including the top strand. If a gliding possum launches itself toward a tree across the boundary fence but strikes the fence as it loses altitude, the chances of it becoming impaled on a barb are high. Once impaled the glider tends to spin around the barbed strand, resulting in ever tighter entanglement.  Shock, pain, blood loss and dehydration follow, until the animal dies.

A partial solution to the problem of deaths on barbed wire is to replace the top barbed strand with plain wire. Graziers sometimes agree to this change, which goes a long way to reducing the problem. Where graziers are reluctant to accept the change, fearing their cattle may be emboldened to break a plain strand, gliders can be helped by stretching a bird wire “apron” between top and bottom barbed strands in those sections of fence where glider strike has been recorded.

The apron helps because if a glider strikes the apron section, it cannot spin around the top strand because of the wire-netting curtain stretched from top to bottom strand of the fence. Instead, there is a good chance the glider will be able to clamber off the fence and either leap to the target tree or jump to the ground and scramble to the nearest tree.

It is hoped that a few volunteers can gather at Blackbraes National Park on Tuesday 22 September 2009 to work over the following four or five days, locating trouble spots where either an apron of bird wire can be fixed to the fence, or with the neighbouring grazier’s agreement, the top barbed strand can be replaced with plain wire.

At present there is tentative approval for this project from relevant Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service officers, QPWS may be able to provide some materials and in-kind help,  the Thorsborne Trust may provide some funds to meet costs of  bird wire, netting pliers, and sturdy gloves, and some donations are likely. Volunteer helpers will be a key ingredient of success.

For details please contact Rupert or Juliana Russell, email: or ‘phone 40 941 096 , leave a message and we will be delighted to return your call.